Families of victims speak out against military trials

Yasmine Fathi , Thursday 17 Nov 2011

By describing in depth the pain of having a relative detained by the Army, family members highlight the plight and uncertain fate of the thousands of Egyptians referred for military trial

Laila Soueif
Laila Soueif the mother of detained blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah has been on hunger strike for more than ten days.(Photo Mai Shaheen)

In yet another attempt to highlight the suffering of civilians subjected to military trials, the families of victims were brought forward to tell their stories during a press conference Wednesday evening.

The conference, which was organised by the No to Military Trials campaign and held at the Journalists' Syndicate in downtown Cairo, included speakers representing the different aspects of the brutality of military trials. These ranged from the next of kin of victims, detainees recently released from military jails, and several who were summoned by the military but refused to heed the order.

The audience were shown a graphic video of the 9 October Maspero clashes that contained close-up images of army trucks running over protesters during the night’s deadly events. Speakers reminded the audience that since the revolution began, the Army has tried 12,000 citizens in military courts — six times the number of civilians sent for military trial during Mubarak’s entire 30 years in power.

Since Mubarak was ousted the military has arrested civilians for anything from participating in protests to breaking the curfew to taking part in a street scuffle.

The families of victims then one by one took the podium to tell the horror they have been through in recent months.

Among those speaking were families of protesters who were arrested and transferred to military trials during the 9 September clashes in front of the Israeli embassy, the Maspero clashes on 9 October, and others who were sporadically arrested from Tahrir Square.

The most notable speakers were the family of Alaa Abd El-Fattah, the renowned blogger who is currently in prison awaiting investigation by the military prosecutor into charges of inciting violence against the army during the Maspero clashes. His mother, Cairo University professor Laila Soueif, has been on hunger strike for ten days to protest her son’s detainment.

“I would like to assure you all that I am in good health even though I have not eaten since 6 November,” Soueif began. “But I want to tell you that this is not about my son Alaa, but about all those who were violated during recent months.”

Soueif stressed that thousands of poor Egyptians have been transferred to military trials since the revolution began in January and that there is a “need to end military trials under any form”. Soueif also urged protesters to join in calls for a million man march in Tahrir Square on 18 November.

“Alaa will turn 30 on that day and he wants us to celebrate in Tahrir. He won’t be there with us but that is okay,” Soueif said.

Abd El-Fattah’s father, Ahmed Seif El-Islam, also took the podium and slammed the Army for some of the violations of recent months, including the 9 March clashes when protesters were tortured in the Egyptian Museum adjacent to Tahrir Square.

“For the first time in its history, the Egyptian Museum became a torture chamber,” fumed Seif El-Islam. “But we want to thank the military council for giving us Egyptians a cause to once again unite.”

Abd  El-Fattah's sister, Mona Seif, a renowned human rights activist, also spoke, but focused her speech on highlighting other cases of injustice amid military prosecution. The first was of a young man suffering from diabetes and epilepsy who was unjustly sentenced to three years in prison by military prosecution and decided to go on hunger strike in solidarity with Abd El-Fattah.

The other case was that of Essam Atta, the 24-year-old allegedly tortured to death by prison guards in Tora Prison. Atta was serving a two-year prison sentence in Tora's maximum security ward after being prosecuted in a military court on 25 February. Prison officers reportedly pushed hoses and forced water into Atta's mouth and anus, causing severe bleeding, to punish him for smuggling a mobile phone SIM card into his cell.

“Until now they refuse to acknowledge that Atta may have been tortured,” said Seif. “Although another complaint has recently been filed against the officer who tortured him.”

Families of other victims also took the stand one by one to tell the stories of their children, many of whom not only faced military prosecution but were subjected to different kinds of torture while detained. Added to that, the families of victims were often not notified about the arrest of their children and had to go through the emotional trauma of searching for them in the assumption they were dead.

This is what happened to a man who identified himself as the father of Andrew Makram. According to the father, his son was a tour guide who was arrested and taken to a military prison during the Maspero clashes.

After combing Cairo’s hospitals and morgues for any trace of their son, Makram's family assumed he died during the clashes, but they were later informed that he was arrested by the military.

“Our children are victims and not perpetrators,” the father told the audience. “They left the killers free and threw the victims in jail.”

A woman, who identified herself as the wife of Amir Mounir, said that her husband was detained during the Maspero clashes while he was on his way home and has yet to be released.

“I don’t know why they are keeping him,” the mother of two said. “They keep renewing his detainment and giving him 15 days pending investigation. Why?”

A surprise speaker at the conference was Mohamed Atta, the brother of Essam Atta. Atta said that the officer who tortured his brother is guilty and that charges were filed against him recently.

“My brother died in that prison cell. They tortured him and now I want answers,” Atta insisted.

The speakers also included Ahmed Ali, a young man who faced military prosecution but was released two days ago. Ali complained about the inhuman treatment he received in the Appeals Prison while he was awaiting trial.

“There were cockroaches everywhere and we were locked in a tiny cell and not allowed to use the bathroom for three days,” Ali said.

A lawyer for protesters arrested by the military during the 9 September events at the Israeli embassy said that a group of detainees were sent to the Higher State Security prosecution and were tortured, including being electrocuted in different parts of their body. When he and the other lawyers demanded that their clients be referred to a forensic doctor to conduct examinations into evidence of torture on their bodies, the prosecution flatly refused.

Ahmed Darrag, the general coordinator of the National Association for Change, said that he was summoned twice in relation to the Maspero clashes; first as a suspect, then as a witness.

“How could this be?” he asked the audience.

Journalist Mohamed Abdel Koddous also told the crowd that the Journalists' Syndicate made an historic decision this week that any journalist summoned by the military will ignore the order.

“And the syndicate will take responsibility for this,” Abdel Koddous said.

Following the conference, a small protest was held on the steps of the syndicate against military trials of civilians.

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