A military court delayed the issuing of a verdict in the trial of 26 Alexandria Shipyard Company workers on Tuesday for the fifth time, adjourning court proceedings until November 15. Five of the workers standing trial have been released on bail, after having submitted their resignations from the company.
In the case, which has been ongoing since June 18, the military prosecutor charged workers with instigating strikes and obstructing operations at the company, which has been owned by the Defense Ministry since 2007.
Under Article 124 of Egypt’s Penal Code, Alexandria Military Court can sentence civil servants found to be deliberately refraining from performing their duties at work to three months to a year in prison and/or a fine of up to LE500.
Defense lawyer Mohamed Awwad told Mada Masr that the five workers released on bail submitted their resignation letters three weeks ago, while in detention, after a military official affiliated with the Alexandria Shipyard Company advised workers’ families that legal charges might be dismissed upon receipt of their resignation.
Several other detained workers are currently in the process of tendering their resignations in an attempt to secure their release on bail or the dismissal of charges.
The workers were arrested in connection to a sit-in they staged at the Alexandria Shipyard Company on May 22 and 23 to demand salaries aligned with the national minimum wage (LE1,200 per month), overdue profit-shares, annual bonuses, health insurance coverage and the dismissal of the company’s chief administrator, as well as the re-operation of the shipyard’s stalled production lines. Despite the charges leveled against them, there was never a formal work stoppage.
Of the 26 shipyard workers formally referred to military trial, 14 have been detained since May 24 pending trial, while one was released on bail and 11 others have not turned themselves into police custody. After Tuesday’s release, the total number of defendants released on bail increased to six.
Alexandria Shipyard Company administration has imposed a lockout since May 24, one day after the sit-in. Awwad told Mada Masr that approximately 1,000 workers of the total workforce of 2,300 have been allowed back on the company’s premises in recent weeks.
The defense lawyer added that the jailed workers have only been paid half of their basic wages in the five months they have been detained, while over 1,000 workers still barred from entering the shipyard have only been paid basic wages without regular bonuses. Those that have resumed work are receiving their full salaries.
“This is an exceptional trial against civilian workers,” said Awwad. “Many of them were employed at the company before it came under the administration of the Ministry of Defense.”
“If they were producing military hardware or weaponry, they could be referred to military trial, according to the provisions of the military justice law.”
However, the shipyard workers are only involved in the construction of ship frames, along with the maintenance and servicing of maritime vessels.
“This is neither a military production site, nor a munitions factory,” Awwad stated.
Article 204 of the 2014 Constitution prohibits the prosecution of civilians in military courts, except under mitigating circumstances.
“Civilians shall not stand trial before military courts except for crimes that constitute a direct assault on military installations, the Armed Forces, its camps or all else under their authority … including military factories,” Egypt’s Constitution states.
Over the past few months, hundreds of labor activists, trade unionists and human rights workers have campaigned for the rights of the detained shipyard workers.
Several solidarity conferences have been organized to help raise awareness regarding the plight of the workers and their families, while statements of support, and petitions in Egypt and abroad have circulated to call for their release and the dismissal of all charges.
In a televised interview earlier this month, Alexandria’s Member of Parliament Haitham al-Hariri addressed the issue.
“There are 26 workers from the Alexandria Shipyard Company who have been jailed and subjected to injustice,” he said, adding that the workers’ families are struggling to acquire food and pay for basic needs. “Egypt won’t be able to stand on its feet again, except with justice.”
MP Khaled Shaaban also issued a statement, denouncing the prosecutor’s decision to refer the civilian workers to military trial as “unconstitutional.”