Monday, October 31, 2011

Egyptians Rally for Blogger Jailed for Defying Military Prosecutor

New York Times
Egyptians Rally for Blogger Jailed for Defying Military Prosecutor

October 31, 2011


Egyptian activists rallied in Cairo on Monday night, demanding the release of an imprisoned blogger and an end to military trials for civilians. Supporters of the blogger, Alaa Abd El Fattah, chanted slogans demanding his freedom outside his cell.

Mr. Fattah was detained on Sunday after he responded to a summons from a military prosecutor but refused to answer any questions about a protest he attended on Oct. 9, which ended in violence and the deaths of 28 people, most of them Coptic Christians.

Although the authorities initially blamed that night’s violence on protesters, eyewitnesses claimed that soldiers had used excessive force, firing live ammunition and driving armored personnel carriers into crowds outside the headquarters of state television, known as Maspiro.

As the Committee to Protect Journalists explained on Monday, days before he was summoned by the military prosecutor, Mr. Fattah published an opinion piece in the independent daily Al-Shorouk in which he criticized the military’s investigation of the clashes, “saying it could not conduct an impartial investigation into its own activities.” Mr. Fattah’s article for the Egyptian newspaper also described what he witnessed at the protest, and at a Coptic hospital where the wounded and dead were taken after it. He referred pointedly to the soldiers now ruling Egypt as “Mubarak’s military.”

After his article was published, a counterrevolutionary blogger who goes by the name Ahmed Spider struck back at Mr. Fattah, charging that he had incited Christian protesters to attack soldiers. Mr. Fattah, who has been a leading figure in protests this year, has consistently maintained that protesters have used violence only in self-defense, when attacked.

On his way to the hearing on Sunday, Mr. Fattah told Reuters, “They committed a massacre, a horrible crime, and now they are working on framing someone else for it.” He added, “Instead of launching a proper investigation, they are sending activists to trial for saying the plain truth, and that is that the army committed a crime in cold blood.”

The Egyptian news site Ahram Online reported on Sunday that Mr. Fattah refused to submit to interrogation, “on the grounds that the military prosecution had no legitimate right to question civilians.”

Since Jan. 28, the third day of Egypt’s revolution, military tribunals have conducted about 12,000 trials of Egyptian civilians, resulting in more than 8,000 convictions. Mr. Fattah’s sister Mona Seif helps lead a group dedicated to ending military trials for Egyptian civilians.

Another activist, Bahaa Saber, who also defied the prosecutor’s authority, was released. A video posted on YouTube on Sunday showed Mr. Saber leading chants against the military as soon as he left the prosecutor’s office.

On Monday night, Mr. Saber again led chants against Egypt’s ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

Mr. Fattah’s father, a human rights lawyer, reminded Ahram Online that his son and Mr. Saber “were both detained for supporting the independence of the judiciary in 2006.”

“They both stood against Mubarak and were ready to pay a price and now they are doing the same,” the father said.

As a profile of the activist blogger in Ahram Online explained, Mr. Fattah was brought up in a family of leftists with a long history of political activism. His father, Ahmed Seif El-Islam Hamed, is a prominent lawyer and human rights activist who used to run the Cairo-based Hisham Mubarak Law Center. Ahmed Seif El-Islam was arrested in the 1980s and imprisoned for five years for his political activity.

Mr. Fattah’s mother, Laila Soueif, is an activist and a professor at Cairo University. An aunt, Ahdaf Soueif, is a novelist who suggested, in a scathing commentary on the Oct. 9 violence, that the men who rule Egypt wanted to provoke sectarian clashes to justify their continued grip on power.

Mr. Fattah’s wife, Manal Hassan, is also an activist, and the couple collaborate on a blog. As Ahram Online explained, they were living in South Africa until January, “when they took the first flight to Cairo to join Tahrir Square protesters as the revolution erupted.” The news site added:

Following Mubarak’s ouster and concomitant promises of democratic transition, the couple decided to return to Egypt on a permanent basis. Through their Twitter accounts, @alaa and @manal, the couple announced their intention to have a baby. The baby, they noted, would be named Khaled after Khaled Said, the young man from Alexandria beaten to death by police last year who became a posthumous icon of Egypt’s revolution.

Although she is due to give birth soon, Ms. Hassan marched for her husband on Monday night. That led another activist blogger, Lilian Wagdy, to write: “Today an unborn child marched with us to demand the freedom of his daddy. Khaled is perhaps the youngest revolutionary ever.”

Last week, when Mr. Fattah was in San Francisco to speak at the Silicon Valley Human Rights Conference, the White House said President Obama had pressed the head of Egypt’s armed forces to end military trials for civilians. Now, following Mr. Fattah’s arrest, American Internet activists have begun an online petition campaign asking Mr. Obama to call on the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces “to immediately and unconditionally end emergency law and stop the military trial and detention of civilians.”

*Photo courtesy of Access

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