Conflict & Justice

Egypt: Rights groups condemn military trials of civilians


An Egyptian man walks past an Arabic slogan that reads, "No to military trials’’ painted on an entrance to the metro station during a sit-in at Tahrir Square in Cairo on July 27, 2011, months after the country's revolution which brought down the government.



Is Egypt's young democracy regressing to the type of political repression that once existed under the regime of ex-president Hosni Mubarak?

Human rights groups believe so, following the detention of a popular Egyptian activist who posted comments critical the army on the internet.

Asmaa Mahfouz, 26, was summoned for questioning by military prosecutors earlier this week because of comments she posted on her Facebook and Twitter accounts.

"If justice is not met, no one should be upset if armed gangs took to the streets and carried out a string of assassinations," Mahfouz allegedly wrote on Facebook, according to a report by Agence France-Presse.  Local reports stated that the woman posted a similar comment on Twitter. 

Mahfouz, a prominent youth activist in Egypt, was one of the driving forces behind the January 25 protests in Cairo's Tahrir Square that eventually led to the uprising.

(See here and here to learn more about how Mahfouz used social media to call on Egyptians to demonstrate in Tahrir earlier this year)

Her comments were viewed by Egypt's military, which has led the country's transitional government since Mubarak's February ouster, as "insults directed at the armed forces," reported AFP.

Egypt's state media reported that Mahfouz had spoken "inappropriately about the military council" and used "defamatory and offensive insults against the [ruling army council]."

Mahfouz was released after paying a bail of around $3,300. She may, however, still face a military court martial, according to her lawyers.

(GlobalPost in Cairo: Egypt's youth continue their fight on the airwaves)

Rights groups and political figures have condemned the use of military courts to try civilians as a "dangerous precedent" for the country's interim government.

"Although former President Hosni Mubarak is now being tried, the army forces continues the former regime’s methods of censorship and intimidation, announcing that there will be 'no tolerance of insults directed at the armed forces,' a statement worthy of the most authoritarian regimes," stated Reporters Without Borders in a posting on their website Tuesday.

Political figures from all sides of the aisle, from secular liberals to the conservative Muslim Brotherhood, also called on Egypt's government to end military tribunals.

"Military trials for young activists, while Mubarak & co. stand before civilian courts, is a legal farce. Don't abort the revolution," tweeted Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Egypt's military does not, however, seem to be listening to the advice - three employees of a non-profit pro-democracy organization were subpoenaed on Tuesday for official questioning, according to state media.