"The trial was in a kitchen. The judges and the District Attorney were there. And the DA had both hands full. One hand held the TV remote control and the other hand held a taser, legs crossed. Another officer with both feet on the desk, flipping through the channels, with a prewritten statement, just the way he wanted it. If you said something he didn’t like, he will give you a shock."
These are the words of Mustafa Hassan Abdel Monim, speaking at an event held at the Centre for Socialist Studies in Cairo. The event had been organised to give some of those who had been put through Egypt’s Military trials chance to tell their stories.
Mustafa was arrested on 9 March when the army — along with organised and possibly paid thugs — attacked the tent city where a hardcore group of protesters had camped out. The protesters said they would stay until all the demands of the revolution were met, that is, sweeping institutional and economic reforms. Mustafa was taken with more than a hundred others.
Amr Eisa, who also spoke at the event was arrested on the same day. He described the court procedures in equally disturbing terms, saying that "sentences were handed out to 170 young men in less than two hours". He described being taken to a small room containing two tables and eight officers:
"They made me sit on the floor in a squatting position, with my head down, and I’m forbidden to look at anyone. I was only asked two questions during the investigation, my name, and if I had a weapon on me or not, and nothing more. And I saw them write out my statement and copying it from another paper I was put on trial, and I didn’t even know what was written in my statement … Every 30 persons were put on trial at the same time, and it only took five minutes for the whole group to receive their sentence."
He described the experience as more like being "kidnapped" than arrested. These young men, however, are among the lucky ones. Along with around 500 others they were taken during the protests in Tahrir Square on 9 March and 9 April, and outside the Israeli Embassy on 15 May, Nakba Day. The public nature of their arrests meant that activists could effectively pressure for their release — though often they have been left with suspended sentences hanging over their heads.
Five other known activists remain imprisoned, including Michael Nabil. He is a blogger who was taken from his home on 28 March for writing a post that was critical of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the body that has assumed executive power since Mubarak’s departure. At a meeting this Monday with members of the No To Military Trials movement, including activist Mona Seif and lawyer Ragia Omran, a representative of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces did promise that their cases would be re-examined.
There are thousands of other cases, however. (Human Rights Watch puts the number of civilians tried in Military courts since February at over 5000 but lawyers involved suggest the number is probably higher.) In these instances, the names of the defendants and details are still unknown. This makes it impossible for activists to advocate on their behalf. It also makes it impossible to know who are political prisoners, who are members of the public locked up after confrontations with the soldiers deployed around the country following the revolution, and who are accused of genuinely criminal behaviour. It is fair to assume that none have had anything like due process followed in their cases, especially considering the fact that on eight occasions, according to Adel Ramadan of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, these Military tribunals have handed out death penalties, seven for rape, and one for murder.
In some cases these are simply appallingly unfair trials in which harsh sentences are delivered quickly and easily. Some, however, are also clearly part of an ongoing campaign of intimidation that the army has been waging against critical voices here in Egypt. Three judges who criticised the Military tribunal system found themselves under investigation by the Ministry of Justice, and journalists were called in for questioning after breaching the decree prohibiting criticism of the army.
The most obvious form this intimidation takes however, is the repeated violent attacks and detentions on peaceful protesters, including the shocking case of the "virginity tests" to which female protesters were subjected in army custody.
Ramy Essam, sometimes called the "singer of the revolution", was performing at the event where Amr and Mustafa gave their testimonies. He also described being detained by the army briefly but not charged. His story is typical of protesters taken by the army. He was pulled from Tahrir Square and taken to the Egyptian Museum:
"This officer pulled me by the hair, and dragged me and started banging my head until I bled. Then I was tied and beaten continuously, and I was undressed and tied again, with both hands behind my back and one leg. And I was beaten again for a while, in so many ways, and this officer, kept jumping and landing on my head or back … I was also electrocuted. Then I was taken to the back of the building in an area full of sand, and had my face put down in the sand. Finally, before letting me go, the officer had a talk with me, and told me that it was my fault, because of my long hair and the way I looked. After that they let me go."
The upper ranks of the armed forces are loudly proclaiming themselves to be the guardians of the revolution, with generals faces appearing on billboards alongside the faces of the martyrs. Meanwhile, they seem to be doing everything they can to stamp out the habit of free speech, and preserve as much of the old system as possible.
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