August 23, 2011

Egyptian blogger Nabil jailed by army starts hunger strike

On March 28 at night the army arrested blogger Maikel Nabil for blogging about the army and documenting the atrocities against peaceful protesters. Two weeks later and against all international appeals and outcries Nabil was sentenced to three years imprisonment with hard labor and a fine of 200 L.E. for "offending the army". No appeal by human rights groups or even the U.S. government - a firm ally of the Egyptian army - could alter this and he was immediately transferred to prison.

Human Rights Watch called the sentence
"the worst strike against free expression in Egypt since the Mubarak government jailed the first blogger for four years in 2007".
Yet the SCAF found no fault with this, sending a clear signal that it couldn't care less about freedom of expression in Egypt. Amazing, as it is the same SCAF that put up a Constitutional Referendum to vote on, containing explicitly freedom of expression and opinion. In a press conference with General Mamdouh Shaheen and General Ismail Etman it was pointed out that the Constitutional Interim Declaration that resulted from the referendum prevents arrests or detentions without legal basis and ensures freedom of the press as well as freedom of belief and opinion.

Does the SCAF not read its own declaration? How then fits the arrest and sentencing of a blogger into their own declaration? - The SCAF doesn't answer.

On April 8, U.S. Senator Mark Kirk and Member of Congress Frank Wolf wrote personally to Field Marshal Tantawi, Chairman of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, asking him not to sentence Nabil but set him free.

Despite this letter from the U.S. Senator and the Congressman, Maikel Nabil was sentenced only two days later to a prison term of 3 years - and - which is even more astounding - in a secretive way behind the backs of his lawyers and in violation of legal procedures while he was not in court. He has been in jail ever since.

Design by Kirolos Nagy / @Kiroz_

Strong protests show now reaction from SCAF

"The sentence is not only severe, but it was imposed by a military tribunal after an unfair trial", said Joe Stork from Human Rights Watch. And Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at HRW warned: "This trial sets a dangerous precedent at a time when Egypt is trying to transition away from the abuses of the Mubarak era."

Reporters Without Borders were shocked at the sentencing of Maikel Nabil: "The circumstances of this blogger’s arrest and the conduct of his trial demonstrate a complete lack of consideration by the military for the most basic principles of international law."

But the Generals of the Army are unwilling to abide by such laws. To them criticism of the army is a crime that must be punished. Since Maikel Nabil's arrest and conviction several journalists, bloggers, twitter and facebook users have come under surveillance, have been summoned to the military prosecutor and threatened with military trials. Strong protests from activists in Egypt and abroad have so far managed to stop the military going through with their crackdown. But all the national and international outcries over the blogger's sentence have so far shown no reaction from the SCAF.

Now Maikel Nabil has started a hunger strike today protesting against his treatment and the attack against freedom of opinion that is guaranteed in a Constitutional Interim Declaration the SCAF itself is not willing to respect. The hope remains that this time more activists will show solidarity with Nabil hopefully having understood by now that when one blogger is thrown in jail, others may soon follow. It could be them - it could be us - it could be you - tomorrow.

Design by Kirolos Nagy / @Kiroz_

August 22, 2011

Members of EU Parliament urge Ashton to speak out against military trials of civilians in Egypt

An alliance of Members of the European Parliament from all parties have written an urgent letter to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton demanding of her to express the EU‘s deep concern about the many unlawful detentions of protesters in Egypt as well as the ongoing military trials of civilians.

Marietje Schaake, MEP (ALDE), who is one of the MEPs that initiated the letter to Ashton, stated: “Civilians have the right to transparent and fair trials before independent civil courts, and should not be tried at all for merely speaking freely or for peacefully assembling.”

Against the background of statements made by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) which accused several youth movements and individuals of inciting violence and creating unrest and has sentenced thousands of demonstrators to years in prison by military courts without access to a lawyer, the MEPs spoke of a „chilling effect of the large-scale military inquisitions on free speech“.

Franziska Brantner MEP (GREENS), co-initiator of the MEPs alliance, pointed out: “The Egyptian authorities’ commitment to the democratic transformation of their country would be much more credible if freedom of speech and civilians’ rights to a fair trial were fully respected. Egypt’s leadership in the Arab world and beyond depends on the ability of the Egyptian authorities to protect and uphold the values of the January 25 revolution.”

(To read the lettter in high quality click on the pages)

August 18, 2011

Egyptian military plays foul on Amr El-Beheiry

Unbearable news come tonight from the military court that deals with the appeal of Amr El-Beheiry, a young Egyptian man who took part in a peaceful demonstration in February at Tahrir square, got arrested by the military and sentenced to 5 years in jail in a quick trial in absence of any lawyers. - That in itself was a gross violation of international judicial standards and nothing short of a violation of human rights.

Amr El-Beheiry, who has been torn from his life by the military now for already 6 months, jailed in the notorious Wadi El Gedid prison where he was badly beaten and abused, appealed against this unfair verdict in March. Today - 5 months later - the court has announced the first date for the appeal hearing - May 1, 2012!

What must Amr feel tonight? How devastated must he be without hope that his normal life will be restored again? For reasons beyond comprehension the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) just is not listening to all the appeals by Human Rights Watch, amnesty international and many human rights organizations and activists in Egypt to retry Amr and set him free. With the setting of the appeal date to May 2012 they have condemned Amr El-Beheiry to 15 months imprisonment - before his appeal is even discussed for the first time!

What kind of judicial procedures are these where the rights of a prisoner are so grossly violated, where his justified demand that the verdict is investigated is ignored for such an unbearable stretch of time? Unfortunately in military trials the verdict can not be appealed with regard to contents but merely with regard to procedural flaws. But these have been more than evident in his case because his quick trial without hearing the witnesses and without allowing for a defense are violating all procedural requirements of a fair trial as laid down in international agreements.

Only yesterday Human Rights Watch has pointed out that the broad jurisdictional basis of the Code of Military Justice in Egypt is incompatible with international human rights standards because it allows for military trials of civilians without any subject-jurisdiction limitations. The United Nations Human Rights Committee, the expert body that provides authoritative interpretations of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Egypt is a party, states categorically in its recently issued General Comment No. 34, on Article 19 on Freedom of Expression, that, “States parties should not prohibit criticism of institutions, such as the army or the administration.” By this standard, article 184 of the Egyptian penal code, which criminalizes “insulting the People’s Assembly, the Shura Council or any State Authority, or the Army or the Courts,” is incompatible with international law and must be amended accordingly.

All this does not help Amr El-Beheiry. His military jailers ignore international standards and all appeal to fairness from Egyptian activists and human rights groups. For Amr this day is the crushing of all hopes that he will after all be retried and set free, as others have been in the last months. Why the SCAF is so determined to destroy this young man's life is inexplicable. But it will fuel the hatred even more the SCAF has already garnered for its notorious violation of human rights standards while at the same time pretending to be "with the people of Egypt".

Is the SCAF with Amr El-Beheiry and his family? Hardly, or they would not torture them to this extreme. There is no excuse whatsoever for treating an innocent young man in this abhorrent way while disregarding all efforts by the people to restore freedom and dignity to the battered soul of Egypt.

Let us fight for Amr El-Beheiry's freedom each day anew. Let us not accept this delay of the appeal date. Let us not look away and forget him, for his plight stands exemplary for the plight of more then 10.000 Egyptians that have been tried by the military in unfair military court trials since January 25 with little or no hope to regain the freedom they once went out in January 2011 to fight with their lives for.

Did the SCAF fight with their lives to free Egypt of its dictatorship - or is the SCAF proving day by day that they have been and are part of the dictatorship? - They did not fight with their lives. They watched from the comfort of their privileged seats. And whether they are just a continuation of the dictatorial regime - well that is something for them to answer.

With keeping Amr El-Baheiry in jail and ignoring all calls for a fair retry they might once again have given us the answer. It's not a pleasant one, so much is certain.


This is Amr's story:

Amr El Beheiry, was arrested on Feb 26 at night at Midan Tahrir. Although - as is proven by many witnesses - Amr was peaceful and unarmed, he was arrested by the military because of ‘possession of weapons‘. They beat him severely - then had to notice that in fact he was not having any weapons on him. Bruised and battered Amr was released. Bad luck to be victim to such a mistake.

Shortly after his release the protesters decided to leave Tahrir for home. Amr with others got into a car but they did not get far. Still within looking distance of those they had just parted from, the car was suddenly busted by another group of army personnel, the occupants dragged out and arrested. Amr - who clearly had done nothing - again was in the hands of the military.

At the military court - in one of those notorious quick trials that no one was allowed to attend -  he was sentenced to 5 years in prison although he had done nothing and no arms existed that he was said to have carried. The testimonial from Prof. Leila Soueif, who had been at Tahrir and had witnessed the abuse against Amr and could prove that he was abducted from the car, had no weapons and not done anything, went into the trash. Because - who at a military trial is remotely interested in the truth? No one.

So the injustice began and has not stopped ever since. While the verdicts against protesters arrested on March 9 were held back and not ratified and those protesters in the meantime came free, the verdict against Amr El Beheiry was for unknown reasons ratified. That shut the door for him, for now the military could not release him like the others without losing their face.

There is no justification for such an act of injustice as this. If other protesters could be set free that were just as peaceful as Amr El Beheiry there is no reason in the world why this young man must serve a 5 years sentence! Just so the SCAF can keep its face?

Amr El Beheiry has been imprisoned now since Feb 26 - that is six months already - and he is still in prison although he is as innocent as the other protesters that have been released!

SCAF - how long is this unbearable injustice supposed to continue?  

Retry Amr El Beheiry now!
Don't delay his appeal hearing any further
and set him free!

Amr El-Beheiry in better days: in freedom

August 08, 2011

Amn El-Dawla is Still Going Strong

When activists in March stormed the Cairo HQ of the notorious Amn El-Dawla, the State Security, and then went on to storm outposts in Cairo and Alexandria where heaps of shredded files were piled up all over the buildings - it was clear: The Security Forces had done everything in their power to destroy as much evidence as possible. Having shredded thousands of files they were convinced that nothing could be traced back to them and they would be safe. Well - the scenario was not new. 20 years ago the same thing happened in Germany when the Berlin wall came down and the just as notorious Stasi - the East German Security Force - was dismantled. Since then the Germans with their renowned efficiency have found incredible methods to restore even the worst shredded documents. So it was clear that the Amn El-Dawla and its officers were facing hard times and would have to answer painful questions and even face trials if - yes, IF the new governmental forces of Egypt were interested in restoring the documents and clearing up the past.

Shredded files at the HQ of Amn El-Dawla in March

A little after the storming of the building the Amn El-Dawla officially was resolved and replaced by the Amn El-Watani with the Interior Ministry (MOI) promising justice and assuring that those officers that had tortured prisoners were going to be sacked. The files, the MOI said in addition, would be restored as much as possible.

That was in March and after that not much more was heard on the matter from the Ministry. The feeling grew that the promises were not going to be fulfilled, that justice would not come, torturers would not lose their jobs and that the MOI would not truly show interest in restoring the files - for whose destruction the officers of Amn El-Dawla would actually have to face jail terms.

The renowned German newspaper "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" now reported in its Sunday edition yesterday on the Amn El-Dawla and what became of the high hopes we all had in March. It tells of the victims who still get no justice, shows that those that tortured have still nothing to fear and that the suspicion - the MOI would not really be interested in restoring the files - was not unfounded.

Egypt should read this, know this and debate this. For if the past of the notorious Amn El-Dawla with its brutal terror against innocent Egyptians is not wholly cleared up and brought to light - Egypt will not be able to restore her dignity, the wounds will not heal and the desire for justice will be replaced by a desire for revenge. Even in the turbulent times of today the transitional government with the Ministry of Interior is obliged to fulfill the promises it made in March. If there is no honest attempt to try those who committed crimes and to restore the files that were destroyed the people will once more turn against the regime. For then the new is in fact nothing else but the old. And the people will have nothing to lose anymore.

This revolution did not take place so that criminal organizations of the past can continue their work in the dark and sweep evidence under the carpet. If this is allowed to happen a fear will grow: that the officers that tortured in the past will torture again in the future. Because no one is stopping them. Do not allow this to happen. It would be fatal for the democracy of Egypt. And it would be an inexcusable blow for the victims of brutal torture by the Amn El-Dawla.


Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, 7 August 2011

Three years jail for fasting and prayer

Under Hosni Mubarak, many Muslims have been arrested as potential Islamists. Even ordinary policemen were afraid of the Secret Service. The Egyptian State Security has not dissolved even after the revolution. It has only changed its name. The victims are angry - and powerless.

by Jochen Markett, Cairo

At last he can tell his story. Get rid of all the things they did to him. Raise his voice after this endless silence. When he starts talking it sounds as if he has not used his vocal cords for six years. And if now that he can speak again he does not want to stop. "My name is Mahmoud Lotfi," he says. "I was a prisoner of the State Security Amn el-Dawla from 14 July 2002 to 4 August 2005." Visibly shaken, trying to focus, he sits in the sparse conference room of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights in the Cairo district of El-Manial. The upholstery of the chairs are broken, foam pours out. The brown-checkered carpet is not only ugly but also dirty. They did not even place a glass of water on his table.

But to Mahmoud Lotfi that does not matter. For him it is crucial that he can actually come here after the Egyptian revolution and talk openly. Unlike in the previous six years when he had to appear every month at the Security Police and was warned not to disclose anything. But now here he has lawyers who work for human rights - for his rights. "I was in prison for no reason," he says. "I was just a Muslim who prayed and fasted."

His torturers hung him upside down from the ceiling

This is not only his version - even several Egyptian judges saw it that way who declared him innocent a total of 17 times during his detention. And yet the security police never released him. They acted according to their own rules. In his family home in Helwan, south of Cairo, three officers had arrested him without warning and had driven him to Lazoghly, one of the notorious prisons of the Amn el-Dawla, the security police. Only gradually during the interrogations he realized what they wanted from him. They accused him of being a radical Islamist maintaining contacts with the terrorist organization Jama'at Islamiyya.

Under Hosni Mubarak, who staged himself in the fight against Islamists as a partner of the West, this could happen to many Muslims - quite arbitrarily. Sometimes agents went into a store and asked for cigarettes. If the seller said his religion forbade him to sell cigarettes, they arrested him - as a potential Islamist. An estimated 25.000 political prisoners were locked away in the nineties by the Amn el-Dawla. The Egyptians say even the regular police officers were afraid of their colleagues from the state security. The security officials believed they were not bound by any laws.

Mahmoud Lotfi is now 46 years old. His grizzled gray hair makes him look older. Lotfi opens a button on his light blue shirt and rolls up his sleeve. Stripes are visible on the wrist. There they had tied his hands behind his back and bound him to the door - tearing up his tendons. Then he pulls up his left trouser leg revealing his bandaged knee. The bandage seems almost harmless - in contrast to the story behind it: His torturers hung him upside down from the ceiling for two long hours burdening his body still more with a gas cylinder.

Many employees of state security have kept their jobs

The results can be seen in the medical certificates that he has spread on the table: "meniscus tear" and "osteoarthritis of the knee" can be read there. An expertise from the Cairo University Hospital, another is from Houston, Texas. And as if this would not prove his credibility enough Lofti suddenly begins to mimic the endured torture. He lies down on the floor under a chair. He tells very upset that he had to undress completely and sleep for nights in this position. The food they pushed across the floor - and sometimes they electrocuted him.

They - that are not some anonymous intelligence officials. Mahmoud Lotfi can identify the full names of four security policemen who tortured him repeatedly, including two senior officers. He knows exactly where they work today. One was transferred to Cairo airport. All others are still holding their old jobs. Like thousands of colleagues.

NGOs estimate that at least 75 percent of employees have kept their jobs at state security. Only the name of the authority has changed. The Amn el-Dawla - State Security - was officially dissolved in March and immediately replaced by the Amn el-Watani: National Security.

The shredder running at full speed

This is reminiscent of the amazing last few months of the German Democratic Republic, GDR. On 17 November 1989 the Ministry for State Security was converted to the "Office for National Security." But there the parallels basically end. For soon activists in the GDR occupied the security head quarter and never left it anymore. In Egypt in March activists too stormed some buildings of the Amn el-Dawla. But only a few hours later the military special forces expelled the unwanted visitor. The activists were able to save some documents that they published on Facebook as "Amn el-Dawla Leaks". And some films that they took inside can be seen on the video platform Youtube. A breathless and shaking camera woman is heard, then the viewer sees it himself: in stairways and hallways mountains of paper scraps are piled up several meters high. The shredders had obviously been in full swing.

Publicly the Egyptian Interior Ministry says it wants to restore the documents. It even got itself advice from Germany: In March, Herbert Ziehm from the Bureau of Security Documents (Stasi-Unterlagenbehörde) came to visit Cairo. In an interview at the Ministry of the Interior the director for information Hani Abdel-Latif inquired about the German methods to restore shredded paper. There was not much more he wanted to know of the German experts. And since this "friendly reserved conversation" Herbert Ziehm has not received any more calls from the Interior Ministry. Disillusioned he states: For clearing up the past „the cooperation from government agencies is essential. I cannot see that here.“

"You have destroyed my life"

Yet there would be so much to clear up. Mahmoud Lotfi tells of four fellow inmates who died because they were not adequately treated. He himself survived - but how: Whenever he needed medication it turned out to be very expensive. His family, which he could usually see only half an hour per month, had to bribe security officers, paid them ten times the price. And even then they left him waiting for a month before giving him the drugs. Lotfi now urgently needs to be operated on his back. But he is afraid that the risky surgery might damage his spinal cord. He can only work a few hours a day and only while sitting. And his family? He lowers his voice. Whispering he says that his wife has left him. They don‘t have children. What remains for him? He looks down. "There is no future. They destroyed my life.“

The security police does not care about the fates of their victims. Wrongs should remain under wraps. A few weeks ago the Amn el-Watani invited NGO representatives for a talk. The officers distributed leaflets and showed a Power Point presentation about all the things they want to do in the future for the country. But one in the audience rather wanted to talk about the past, calmly. He spoke up and said he was quite willing to forgive. What he earned was not recognition but lack of understanding from the officers: "Why should you forgive us? We're a whole new organization!"

He wants the death penalty for his tormentors

Participating at this talk too was former police officer Ihab Youssef. In 2007 he resigned from his job and has been fighting ever since with his organization "People and police for Egypt" for a better relationship between the people and the security forces - without success. Now after the revolution the state security must finally change dramatically, he says. "Our fear is that in the near future the methods of torture will be back." Youssef complains about the lack of information from the authority. "How do they want to deal with the files for example?" In conversations the representatives of the Amn el-Watani had tried to calm him. They would check all the files and classify them. "But by what? And if they discover illegal acts of their employees how will they deal with that?" To this Youssef has received no answers. The Egyptians would not take this any longer: „The desire for revenge grows.“ In July thousands demonstrated in major cities across the country because they fear that the perpetrators who are responsible for hundreds of demonstrator's deaths will go unpunished.

For Mahmoud Lotfi the quench for justice has become a purpose in life. "The president and his sons are now in prison. Then these insects from the state security surely will also be brought there," he says. He wants the death penalty for his tormentors. Lotfi knows that this fight can be very dangerous for him. But the determination in his voice makes it clear that his will is much greater than the fear. "I am ready to die for it.“

Text: F.A.S.