On Monday, the illegal trial of human rights lawyer Muhamad Mugraby began without him. Mugraby, who has not left Lebanon, is being tried in-absentia in a closed military court on charges of criticising the pro-Syrian Lebanese government in 2003.
Mugraby was charged after he delivered a speech on November 4, 2003, to a European Parliament delegation in Brussels, where he criticized the Lebanese government’s practice of using military courts to prosecute civilians for dissent. He also told the delegation that the military judges lacked adequate legal training, and he condemned the use of torture to coerce confessions from suspects appearing before the military tribunals.
Mugraby told IRIN that he didnt expect much. “I’ve learnt not to forecast the actions of the military officers – they work by a different set of rules,” he said.
Mugraby and his lawyers have filed a list of complaints with the court, explaining why the trial is not, in their view, legitimate. “The most important thing is that Article 20 of the Lebanese Constitution guarantees the right of every Lebanese civilian to a fair trial before a court constituted of judges,” Mugraby said. “These are military officers.” He went on to say that the charges violated his right to freedom of expression under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Lebanon is a party.
Human Rights Watch said in a statement that
“the prosecution of Dr. Mugraby casts doubt on Lebanon’s commitment to human rights reform,” said Joe Stork, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa division at HRW. “No one should face jail for peacefully criticizing the government or the military,” he added.
The trial was called a "perversion" by the International Commission of Jurists.
The Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists called the trial a “perversion” of the law and called for all charges to be dropped unconditionally. “This process before the military court constitutes an aberration and its article of indictment is a gross violation of fundamental rights,” the commission noted in a statement.
Lebanon's military courts do not conform to international fair trial standards, says HRW.
In 1997 the United Nations Human Rights Committee noted, in its Concluding Observations on Lebanon, its concern regarding “the procedures followed by these military courts, as well as the lack of supervision of the military courts’ procedures and verdicts by the ordinary courts.”
This is not the first time that the Lebanese authorities have prosecuted and harassed Mugraby. In August 2003, officials arrested Mugraby and detained him for three weeks on apparently politically motivated charges of “impersonating a lawyer.” That arrest followed repeated attempts by the Beirut Bar Association to prevent Mugraby from practicing as a lawyer. This harassment took place while Mugraby was campaigning for investigations into judicial corruption and for an inquiry into the “disappearances” of two Lebanese who had been transferred to Syrian custody in 1997.
Mugrabi's illegal trial began during the Syrian era, and it continues after the alleged independence. Samir Geagea was freed, Islamists were pardoned, Hizbullah freely receives weapons via another country, Palestinian factions are allowed to carry arms, but Muhamad Mugraby is still being tried in a closed military court for rightly criticising the actions of the government and its unfair practice of using military courts. He faces a three-year prison term if found "guilty."
Sadly, this trial is largely ignored by the Lebanese media and I should add, public!