January 10, 2012

Why Amr El-Beheiry is not yet free

When Amr El-Beheiry was arrested by military forces on February 26, 2011, there were enough witnesses to prove that he had done nothing wrong when participating in a protest in Tahrir square. But when he was tried in military court only days later, no witnesses were heard, no lawyer was present - Amr was sentenced in breach of all international judicial regulations within minutes to five years in prison. And that's where he went. Only afterwards did his brother find out that Amr had been damned by a military court that did not care for his innocence or the truth and willfully had crushed his freedom, destroying Amr's life.

For Egyptian blogger and activist Mona Seif, who with her mother had been present at Tahrir when Amr was arrested, this was the moment that sparked the campaign "No military trials for civilians" that rose quickly to become one of the strongest movements in post-revolutionary Egypt. Not because of the huge number of members but because of the hardheaded determination of those - at first mainly female - activists that supported and fought for the cause, often risking themselves to be arrested by the military.

In August Amr's lawyer finally managed to get an appeal date accepted - May 1st, 2012. That was outrageous, as Amr would have spent 15 months in jail until then without any chance to get his case retried. The date was protested, changed and then finally set on today, January 10.

This afternoon the military court, after hearing the case, accepted Amr El-Beheiry's appeal and lifted the sentence of 5 years, ordering for him to be retried.

A ray of hope that Amr and his family and all those who supported him in the last ten months had been waiting for so eagerly. But - alas - at the moment it is only a ray of hope, not yet more.

For the court ordered the retrial to be - in front of a military court. Just where Amr had been unjustly sentenced to 5 years in jail before.

It is not hard to imagine what this can mean with regard to justice not being served. In the case of the blogger Maikel Nabil, who had been sentenced to 3 years in prison and in his appeal finally got his sentence lifted, it meant no justice. He was retried by a military court and received a new sentence to 2 years in prison. No freedom was given to him, the whole judicial act seemed nothing less but a farce.

For Amr, whose innocence is beyond doubt to anyone who is not blinded by SCAF's ranting against protesters, the acceptance of his appeal and lifting of the initial sentence can mean just the same: another trial in front of military court with a sentence now perhaps 'only' 3 years instead of five. It would mean the continued injustice for a young Egyptian who should never have been in jail in the first place.

As uplifting as today's appeal decision therefore seems to be - Amr is not yet free, and the decision of today will also not automatically guarantee his freedom unless huge pressure is put on the SCAF generals in public to finally let Amr go.

This the military court could of course do either by setting him free and declaring him innocent - a huge step to take for generals who constantly fear to lose their face - or the court could make a ruling, letting Amr go free with a mild sentence that is suspended. The military court has decided like this in numerous cases of arrested Tahrir protesters before. The chances for this happening are not all together slim. It would therefore be vital to push and pressure the case of Amr El-Beheiry and the demand for his ultimate freedom now with all force wherever possible in the hope that the military court will make a positive move in the right direction.

What should be done though even more is reminding the generals of SCAF that they have made a promise in one of their statements last fall that they would stop all military trials of civilians. After all - that is what the brilliant campaign of Mona Seif and her co-activists in Cairo and Alexandria have been demanding for months. And SCAF had said to align itself with this demand and did indeed forward several cases from the military judiciary to civilian courts.

If it could be achieved that Amr's case is transferred from the military to a civilian court his lawyers would have much better chances of introducing witnesses, producing evidence and affidavits and generally speak up in his favour. Then - and perhaps only then - Amr El-Beheiry stands a chance of getting a sentence that is just and fair setting him finally free after an ordeal of 10 gruesome months in jail that were accompanied with lots of hardship.

Many have spoken up for Amr El-Beheiry during his unlawful imprisonment which made it possible for his appeal today to be accepted. But many more voices are needed now in full force to get his case transferred where it belongs - to a civilian court, where his rights will hopefully be respected and his case could be heard without prejudice.

So please raise your voice in the next days and weeks for Amr El-Beheiry and campaign for him as fiercely as you did for Alaa or Maikel or the other thousand of innocently arrested who have been rotting in jail because of military quick-trials, without justice being served. Amr was arrested on February 26 - only 15 days after Mubarak stepped down. What share did he have so far in the revolution he helped to create?

It is about time that Amr El-Beheiry finally gets a chance to enjoy the freedom the revolution fought for. 10 months late - but never too late.



This is how you can help to get Amr‘s case transferred to a civilian court and hopefully get him free:

1.    Got to the official SCAF facebook page - chose the newest statement at the top and type a comment underneath it. If you can, do it in Arabic, as the generals are poor in understanding English. But otherwise you might want to write something like this:
“Amr El-Beheiry was unjustly sentenced to 5 years imprisonment by military court on March 1, 2011, although he was innocent. On January 10, 2012, his appeal was accepted and the sentence was lifted after 10 long months in jail. He is now to be retried.

Amr El-Beheiry is a civlian who should never be tried in a military court! Please ensure that his retrial will be in front of a civilian court as was promised by SCAF last year! Or set him free for he is not guilty of the charges and there are many witnesses that can testify to his innocence. Amr El-Beheiry should never have had to spend 10 months in jail! It is now the time to give him the freedom he deserves!“

2.    Write “Free Amr El-Beheiry“ in Arabic on a big piece of paper or cardboard and paste it from the inside of your car against a window, so everyone can see it when you drive through the city.

Or print one of the pics that you can find on his facebook page.

3.    Check with the “No military trials for civilians“ campaign at @nomiltrials on twitter or their homepage to join in further actions coming up.

Join in marches to show SCAF that the fate of Amr El-Beheiry and his demand for freedom is not forgotten.


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