The group played an “incredibly important” role over the past year, says Heba Morayef, a Cairo-based researched for Human Rights Watch. “They zoomed in on one issue that, at the beginning, seemed a technical issuer that only human rights lawyers were obsessed with, and they managed to turn this into a rallying call for anti-military protesters and also for intellectuals and politicians looking at civil-military relations,” she says. “I think their work has had a measurable and very significant impact.”
The No Military Trials group is a combination of veteran activists, lawyers, and ordinary citizens. It coalesced in March 2011, when activists began looking into Beheiry’s case, and others arrested that month, and discovered that there were hundreds, then thousands, of others like him.
Many were too poor for their cases to gain attention, and their families didn’t know where to turn. Many were discovered by chance, as lawyers who went to aid one victim found dozens of other names on the docket, says Ragia Omran, a lawyer who has been a main pillar of the group over the last year as she worked to defend those brought before military tribunals.
The extent of the practice was not clear until September, when a military general admitted that nearly 12,000 Egyptians had faced military tribunals so far. The trials can take place in as little as five minutes. Defendants sometimes cannot choose their lawyers, and are sometimes allowed to say only a single word before the military judge. Human Rights Watch documented 43 cases of juveniles being tried before such courts.