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Egypt's Military Goes After Democracy Activist (and #PdF11 Speaker) Alaa Abd el Fattah

BY Micah L. Sifry | Monday, October 24 2011


Egyptian democracy activist and blogger Alaa abd el Fattah (and friend of PdF*) has been summoned by the military government to face charges of inciting violence and destroying public property. Alaa, as he is widely known (his Twitter handle is @alaa), is appearing tomorrow at the inaugural Silicon Valley Human Rights Conference, appropriately enough. He says the charges are "trumpted up," that the military is "avoiding investigating its own crimes," and that "the best way to help me is raise alot of noise about the injustice of civilians facing military trials in Egypt."

So far, according to Human Rights Watch, more than 12,000 civilians have been brought before military tribunals since the departure of Hosni Mubarak. That is more that the total who faced such tribunals during Mubarak's 30-year dictatorship. Such trials, says HRW, "do not protect basic due process rights and do not satisfy the requirements of independence and impartiality of courts of law. Defendants in Egyptian military courts usually do not have access to counsel of their own choosing and judges do not respect the rights of defense. Judges in the military justice system are military officers subject to a chain of command and therefore do not enjoy the independence to ignore instructions by superiors."

One person currently in jail after being convicted by one of these tribunals is blogger Maikel Nabil, who is serving three years for “insulting the military establishment” and “spreading false information” by posting his opinion on his blog and Facebook page.

The revolution in Egypt is obviously stalled, with the military resisting pressure to liberalize and violently putting down renewed protests. Two weeks ago, on October 9, soldiers fired into crowds at Tahrir Square protesting for the protection of minority rights. Twenty-five people were killed, including one 20-year-old, Mina Daniel, a Coptic Christian, whose death has inspired a Facebook page, "We are all Mina Daniel," echoing the "We are all Khaled Said" page that was a focal point for the January 25 movement that took down Mubarak. The page currently has 27,000 followers.

In Europe, MEP Marietje Schaake is pressing a resolution of the European Parliament condemning the ongoing assault on democracy and due process. Currently Egypt receives $1.3 billion a year in aid from the United States, most of that going to the military. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have both called on the Egyptian military to repeal the emergency laws before next summer's scheduled national elections. With the potential arrest of Alaa and his comrades, the military is signaling that it thinks it can safely ignore those appeals from its American allies.

Perhaps it's time the State Department, which has been so eloquent in its support for "internet freedom," stuck its neck out?

*Here is Alaa's inspiring talk from PdF 2011 in New York last June: