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Egyptians protest blogger's detention, call for end to military trials

November 1, 2011 | 12:08 pm

Laa-Abd-El-Fattah-and-wif-007
REPORTING FROM CAIRO -- Egyptian activists are demanding the release of Alaa Abdel Fattah, a popular blogger who criticized the army for the death of protesters during a recent demonstration.

The 29-year-old blogger was ordered detained for 15 days pending an investigation by military prosecutors for his alleged role in "inciting Coptic protesters to attack army soldiers" during an Oct. 9 protest that ended with 27 people, mostly Copts, dead and more than 300 injured.

The violence that day raised questions about the military's role in running the country since former President Hosni Mubarak was driven from power in February.

Abdel Fattah's case is the latest in a series of detentions for political bloggers who have run afoul of the ruling Supreme Council of Armed Forces. Egyptians have grown increasingly angry by the use of military tribunals over civil courts. According to human rights advocates, 12,000 civilians have been detained and sentenced by the army since Mubarak stepped down.

"We're trying to keep the focus on military trials of civilians, not just Alaa," said Abdel Fattah's wife, Manal Hassan.

On Monday, 2,000 activists rallied in Cairo to support Abdel Fattah. Amnesty International expressed its dismay at the veteran blogger's detention, saying that the rights of Egyptian activists now are even more limited than during Mubarak's reign.

"Abdel Fattah's summoning is a warning that Egypt's armed forces are cracking down on criticism," read Amnesty International's statement. "Military courts are fundamentally unfair, as they deprive defendants of basic fair trials guarantees."

Abdel Fattah was summoned for questioning Sunday. But he refused to be questioned, saying that he didn't recognize the military's right to interrogate a civilian in a case in which military police killed protesters. Abdel Fattah and other activists have blamed the army for instigating the violence on Oct. 9. 

Video footage of the protest showed soldiers attacking and military vehicles running over demonstrators. The military council has denied that the army had any role in the violence and claimed that Coptic protesters assaulted soldiers protecting the state television building where clashes erupted.

"Why does the report say run over by a 'heavy vehicle' when truth is clear and we all know it was an armored tank? ... Why can't we read the name of the criminal who is known to all of us?" Abdel Fattah wrote in a commentary posted by Al Shorouk newspaper shortly before he was summoned.

In the article, which was widely circulated online, Abdel Fattah lashed out at the army as well as at autopsy reports on those killed during the demonstration. 

Abdel Fattah, a former software developer, and his wife were among the first Egyptians to openly criticize Mubarak and his regime, beginning with the blog Manalaa.net in 2004.

In May 2006, he was arrested and held for 45 days for taking part in a peaceful protest showing solidarity with the free judiciary movement. Abdel Fattah and his wife moved to South Africa in 2008 before taking the first flight back to Cairo after the Jan. 25 uprising broke out.

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-- Amro Hassan

Photo: Alaa Abdel Fattah with his wife, Manal Hassan. Credit: Associated Press

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