Family and sympathizers of Maikel Nabil demonstrated outside military court C28 in support of freedom of expression, speech and opinion and against military trials. (photo by: Simon Hanna)
Relatives and supporters of detained Egyptian blogger Maikel Nabil, who staged demonstrations on Tuesday outside Cairo’s notorious C28 military court where the blogger’s verdict was expected to be appealed, were disappointed when the judge postponed trial proceedings to next week.
“They postponed proceedings because Maikel’s file had not yet been presented to the judge,” said Mark Nabil Sanad, Maikel’s younger brother. “It’s not our fault that some court bureaucrat failed to do his job.”
The 28-year-old online activist has been on hunger strike for 43 days, which has caused his health to deteriorate markedly. According to his brother, he is suffering from kidney failure and energy depletion. He cannot walk - or even stand - and speaks only with difficulty, his brother said.
During a prison visit last week, Maikel told his brother that he would maintain his hunger strike until his release. He also told him that if today’s trial failed to secure his release, or was postponed, he would begin a “thirst strike” in addition to his current hunger strike.
“We’re worried for the life of the young man in jail,” said Maged Hanna, Maikel’s lawyer. “We asked for him to be transferred to a hospital, but received no response from anyone.”
“We petitioned the military council, the prison and the interior ministry,” Hanna added. “Maikel’s family even said they would foot all the hospital bills.”
With the trial postponed to 11 October, Maikel’s family and supporters now fear the young activist may not make it.
“They didn’t postpone his trial, they sentenced him to death,” Mark, on the verge of tears, said. “Do they want to kill him?”
Maikel’s father said the postponement came as a big disappointment and served to illustrate the obstinacy of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF).
Upon hearing the news, the small crowd of protesters outside the courthouse began chanting slogans against the SCAF and its leaders, Field-Marshal Hussein Tantawi and Chief of Staff Sami Anan.
During the demonstration, in which activists held banners aloft calling for freedom of expression, soldiers arrested Sahar Maher, an active member of the “Free Maikel Nabil” campaign, for taking photos and video of the protest on her mobile phone. A foreign journalist, who was also taking videos, was arrested along with Maher.
Authorities also confiscated a video camera belonging to a reporter with Iran’s Press TV and forced a journalist from the US-based Christian Science Monitor to delete all her photos.
Maher is expected to stand before a military court on Tuesday on charges of photographing military installations without official permission.
From a nearby watchtower, meanwhile, soldiers filmed the demonstrators and journalists that had amassed outside the courthouse. Those present were warned that their cameras and mobile phones would be seized if they tried to film or photograph the scene.
Several protesters, for their part, noted the irony of the military using force against activists who were calling for greater freedom of expression.
Maikel was arrested in late March after publishing a blog post entitled, “The people and the army were never one hand,” in reference to a popular slogan - chanted ad nauseum in the wake of the recent revolution - meant to highlight popular trust in Egypt’s armed forces. The blogger was later sentenced to three years in prison and a stiff financial penalty on charges of "insulting the army."
“I’ve been following Maikel’s blog since before the revolution,” said Mahmoud Rabie, a friend of Maikel’s on Facebook. “Everything he wrote was simply an opinion. He didn’t threaten security, or any institution, in any way.”
In reference to recent SCAF policies, Rabie added: “Freedom of expression appears to have become a crime for which you can now be arrested.”