Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Severe sentence for blogger Nabil again raises questions about role of Egyptian army

An  Egyptian military court has sentenced blogger Maikel Nabil Sanad to three years in prison on Monday for a publication on his blog in which he ínsulted the army'. The sentence again underscores the dubious role that the army is playing after it de facto took power in February. 
Maikel Nabil Sanad
The sentence against Maikel Nabil, a 25-year old christian veterinarian from Assiut in Upper Egypt may be, as Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, put it, 'the worst strike against free expression in Egypt since the Mubarak government jailed the first blogger for four years in 2007.' Stork added: 'The sentence is not only severe, but it was imposed by a military tribunal after an unfair trial.'
Maikel Nabil Sanad was arrested on March 28, 2011, at his home in Cairo. The military prosecutor charged him with 'insulting the military establishment,' under article 184 of the penal code, and with 'spreading false information,' a violation of article 102 bis. The military judge had announced on April 6 that he would rule on April 10 after defense lawyers had completed their pleadings. On April 10, Nabil's lawyers were informed that no session would take place on that day and that the judge would rule on April 12.
But when the lawyers went to the court complex on the morning of April 11, they saw on the court roll that the court had already sentenced Nabil the day before. In violation of the Code of Military Justice, the lawyers had not been present.
The sentence still has to be ratified by the chief of the military district. But the chances are slim that he would refuse to put his signature under this scandalous verdict.
The reason for the sentence against Nabil can be found here. It merits to be read. Nabil delivers quite severe criticism of the role the army has been playing in this revolution. Rightly so, as his sentence seems to prove among many others things. 

Human Rights Watch asserts that the military, since the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) assumed power on February 11, has arrested at least 200 protesters. Over 150 protesters arrested on March 9 after the military forcibly cleared Tahrir Square of protesters were sentenced to prison terms by military tribunals in Cairo's high-security Tora prison and are still being held.
Again Human Rights Watch: 'Over the past two months, victims of torture by the military and human rights activists who have exposed military abuses have found most Egyptian news media unwilling to cover these issues. Two news conferences by human rights lawyers in which torture victims testified received almost no coverage. Only a limited number of opinion writers in some newspapers and certain TV hosts have been willing to raise the issue. This is robably due to that fact that general Ismail Etman, head of the Morale Affairs Department of the SCAF,  sent a letter to editors of Egyptian newspapers on 22 February telling them "not to publish any articles/news/press releases/complaints/advertising/pictures concerning the armed forces or the leadership of the armed forces, except after consulting the Morale Affairs directorate and the Military Intelligence since these are the competent parties to examine such issues to protect the safety of the nation." Human Rights Watch has seen a photocopy of this letter and confirmed its authenticity.
The process against Maikel Nabil is just one othe reasons why many people question whether the army is truly supporting the revolution, or whether it is in fact more inclined to put the brakes on and keep much of the old structures intact. The bloody incident of last Saturday, for instance, whereby the army arrested 20 army officers who had joined the demonstation on Tahrir and forcibly dispersed the protesters, using live ammunition, was one other event that raised many questions. The 25 January Revolution Youth Coalition, a loose entity consisting of several youth groups, announced the suspension of its talks with the SCAF until the bloody incident on Saturday is investigated.
But in the meantime, the group warned against the deterioration of military-civilian relations at such a critical juncture in Egyptian politics, Al-Masry al-Youm reported. And also others warned that it is too early to conclude that the army want to take things in its own hands. It might just be that it is connservative and undecided how to handle matters best. One of the people saying this  is blogger Sandmonkey. Another one political scientist Hassan Nafae, who thinks it is not bad will that the army acts like it does. 'So far,' he told Al-Masry al-Youm, 'I believe it is due to a lack of vision because the military establishment is a traditional force by definition… It wants to bring about change but within tight limits.

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