Egypt: Blogger trial condemned

Amnesty International has condemned the trial of young blogger in Egypt, calling on the Egyptian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Ahmad Mostafa, 20, a blogger and prisoner of conscience facing up to nine and a half years in prison after he published a post alleging nepotism within the armed forces.

Mr Mostafa is set to face a military trial in Cairo on Sunday 7 March in relation to a post published on his Matha Assabaka ya Watan (What happened to you, oh nation?) blog in March 2009. He is the first Egyptian blogger to face a military trial for his alleged activities.

Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Director Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said:

“Ahmed Mostafa has been prosecuted solely for exercising peacefully his right to freedom of expression on his blog.

“He is now facing bogus charges that reveal the determination of the authorities to control the Egyptian blogosphere, which has become a pocket of free expression in the country.”

Mostafa’s post recounted the story of a student who had allegedly been forced to resign from a military academy in order to leave room for another applicant amid accusations of nepotism. Mostafa, who is an engineering student at the university of Kafr El Sheikh, has been accused of publishing military secrets online, publishing false information about the army and of insulting officers involved in the recruitment process at the military academy.

According to lawyers from the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, he was first arrested by military intelligence officers on 17 February and was questioned about his blog. He first appeared before a military tribunal on 1 March, although lawyers representing him from the Hisham Mubarak Law Center and the Association for the Freedom of Thought and Expression told Amnesty that they only received his case file from the authorities on 2 March.

Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui added:

“The use of military courts to try bloggers is a shocking new development. Egypt has consistently been criticised by UN human rights bodies for this misuse of military justice. Rather than addressing the unfairness of trials of civilians by such courts, the Egyptian authorities are now seeking to widen their use.”

Ahmed Mostafa is not the only Egyptian blogger in jail for his writing. In February 2007 Karim Amer, an Amnesty prisoner of conscience, was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment for criticising President Hosni Mubarak and Egypt’s al-Azhar religious authorities on his blog.

Meanwhile, Hani Nazeer, another prisoner of conscience, has been held in administrative detention since October 2008 for posting on his blog the cover of a book deemed insulting to Muslims.

On 19 February 2010, during a UN examination of Egypt’s human rights record,  the Egyptian authorities rejected a recommendation calling on them to “release bloggers and activists currently detained under the Emergency Law and cease its arrests and detentions of political activists.”

Background

Amnesty International opposes the trial of civilians by military courts. Such trials violate the right to a fair and public hearing before a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law as guaranteed in Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Egypt is a state party.

Military courts were established in Egypt under the Code of Military Justice (Law Number 25 of 1966). The Law was amended in April 2007, but the changes did not address the fundamental flaws inherent in trying civilians before military courts.

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