The No to Military Trials for Civilians group, along with another seven movements, held a press conference Monday to mark the release of the majority of protesters detained by the army on 9 March in Tahrir Square and 15 May outside the Israeli embassy and the Lawyers Syndicate in Cairo.
“Speakers at the conference stressed the point that the military council is playing a political role which gives the citizens the right to criticise it,” Mona Seif, a rights activist and member of No to Military Trials for Civilians, told Ahram Online.
All the remaining 120 protesters arrested on 9 March were released on Saturday with suspended sentences. They were detained after the army evacuated a Tahrir Square sit-in by force and were tried before a military court after being labelled thugs.
“March 9 activists had most of the pressure of rights activists on the military trial issue,” Seif told Ahram Online.
Earlier this week, 135 activists, arrested in the course of a protest held outside the Israeli embassy on the 63rd anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba, or catastrophe, were released with suspended sentences.
According to Seif, only five detainees picked up by the army for political reasons since the outbreak of the Egyptian revolution remain in military prisons. The movement is currently working on their files, hoping to get them released as well. The five are: Amr El-Bahairy who was arrested on 26 February outside the State Council and sentenced to five years in prison; Abu El-Maaty Abu El-Arab who was detained on 3 February in Tahrir Square and sentenced to five years in prison; Mohamed Adel who was arrested on 28 January and sentenced to five years in prison; Mahmoud Hussein who was detained on 9 April in Tahrir Square and Maikel Nabil who was arrested for writing a blog post criticising the army’s role in the revolution and sentenced to three years in prison.
Nevertheless, still languishing in military prisons are thousands of other civilians accused of thuggery rather than for their politic beliefs.
“Since the revolution – in most cases – civilian trials were replaced by military ones when dealing with citizens except for corrupt figures,” added Seif. The campaign against military trials will continue working to push against extra-judicial trials for all civilians, regardless of the charges they face.
While the release of protesters is an encouraging development for the activists, the suspended sentences they have been handed is not the exoneration they were seeking. “The fact that they have suspended sentences does not give them the pride they deserve as revolutionaries who did nothing wrong,” said Seif.
Moreover, the No to Military Trials group has joined the Egyptian bloggers in their NO SCAF blogging day. Their website Tahrir Diaries displays their blog against de-facto leader Field Marshall Mohamed Hussein Tantawi and against all military trials for civilians.
Egyptian bloggers decided on marking 23 May as a day for bloggers to focus their energies on the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, using their blogs as platforms to voice their opinion about the military and its role since the ouster of president Hosni Mubarak. It is a widely accepted that writing about the military is a red line. The arrest and sentencing of blogger Maikel Nabil for commenting on the military has not helped to dispel this belief. Nevertheless, bloggers decided to flood the internet with their opinions and objections, hoping their numbers would minimise the risk.
By Monday’s end, there had been at least 375 blog posts published about the military council, according to a Facebook page created by bloggers to compile such posts.
Blogs entries were written in both Arabic and English. The majority of the bloggers were criticising the army, laying the groundwork for Friday’s “Second Day of Rage” when they plan to demonstrate in Tahrir Square and call for a second revolution. “Can a country become a democracy when the path leading to it is paved with actions that are fundamentally opposed to democracy?” asked Amira Mikhail in her blog post. Mikhail, among other bloggers, wrote that she is going to Tahrir Square to show her objection to the SCAF’s interim government.
Among the movements working with No to Military Trials for Civilians who participated in the press conference are the Popular Committees for Defending the Revolution, the National Front for Justice and Democracy, the Free Egyptian Movement and the Maspero Protesters.
After the conference, the families of the released revolutionaries headed to Tahrir Square to celebrate this special day of release.
The trend that has seen civilians facing military trials has been the focus of protests and much debate since the ouster of Mubarak. Hundreds of protesters have been detained in military prisons with many reporting incidences of torture, according to reports issued by Human Rights Watch.