Alaa Abdel Fatah at the High State Security Court, 5 December, 2011 (Photo: Internet)
Egyptian authorities on Monday transferred the case of a prominent blogger from state security prosecutors to investigative judges, a move that opens up the possibility of a trial in a civilian criminal court with the right to appeal, his lawyer and family said.
The detention of Alaa Abdel-Fattah, a well known blogger and leader during the 18-day uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarak in February, has elicited international condemnation and galvanized those who accuse the army of using Mubarak-era tactics to smear critics.
Abdel-Fattah's father, Ahmed Seif al-Islam, said his son's case was transferred from state security prosecutors to investigative judges who are now overseeing the accusations against him. The decision also affects 27 others accused of taking part in violent clashes with security forces in Cairo 9 October that left 27 people dead, most of them Christians.
Abdel-Fattah's father, who is also a prominent rights lawyer, told The Associated Press that Monday's decision to transfer the investigation provides his son a greater chance for a just trial. "This gives the accused more rights because it places the burden of proof on the prosecution, not the defendant," he said.
Abdel-Fattah was detained 30 October after he refused to answer questions over his alleged role in the clashes because he was interrogated and prosecuted by the military. He has not been charged, but has been accused of stealing a military weapon, deliberately destroying military property and attacking security forces. He denies the allegations.
Prosecutors later tacked on the additional accusations that these incidents resulted in the death of a soldier and an attempt to attack a government building, his father said.
Hossam Bahgat, the executive director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, said Monday's decision marks a step forward.
"I think the authorities are making an effort to make the case look fairer," he said. "But still authorities have failed to address the real issue here, which is that protesters should not be investigated in the aftermath of this horrific incident."
Bahgat said that if state security prosecution had charged Abdel-Fattah, his case would have likely gone to an emergency court with no right to appeal. However, with two judges investigating the case, there is a greater chance that Abdel-Fattah and those accused in the clashes will be tried in a civilian criminal court with the right to appeal, he said.
The final decision of how the case will be handled still lies with the attorney general.
Abdel-Fattah's case has drawn sharp criticism and calls for his release from international rights groups.
On Monday, the Committee to Protect Journalists urged Egypt's prime minister to free Abdel-Fattah and fellow blogger Maikel Nabil Sanad, who is imprisoned on separate accusations. The group also called on the military to investigate the death of a cameraman who was shot dead while covering the October clashes for a Coptic Christian television channel.
The New York-based group said there were also at least 35 attacks on journalists during clashes last month that left more than 40 people dead, and called on Egypt's military rulers to launch a transparent investigation into the attacks.
Also Monday, the military sought to clarify the role of an advisory council it appointed, by saying in a statement that it is not a substitute for an elected legislator.
This comes after Egypt's military rulers said last week that the next parliament will not be representative enough to independently oversee the drafting of a constitution. The comments caused an uproar by Islamist parties set to dominated the new parliament, who accused the military of trying to undercut the authority of elected legislators even before the house is seated.