Egypt: pacifist blogger and conscientious objector Maikel Nabil Sanad sentenced to three years in prison

Maikel Nabil SanadMaikel Nabil Sanad

An Egyptian military court sentenced pacifist blogger and conscientious objector Maikel Nabil Sanad on 10 April to three years' imprisonment on charges of "insulting the military". Maikel Nabil Sanad was arrested at his home by military police on 28 March 2011, The military court ordered his detention for 15 days, pending the investigation. The trial itself opened on 31 March 2011, but was consequently adjourned several times, until the sentencing on 10 April.

The trial itself - as a civilian, Maikel Nabil Sanad was tried in a military court - was accompanied by a range of irregularities. His friends and supporters were usually not allowed to attend the trial, and often even his family was not able to attend. To do so, the military used a simple trick: the guards at the entrance to the military complex which houses the military court did not have Maikel Nabil Sanad's trial on the list of trials of the day, so nobody who wanted to attend the trial was able to enter. On the day of sentencing - 10 April - the military court used a trick to make sure Maikel Nabil Sanad was on his own when he was finally sentenced. His family and lawyers were told that the sentencing would be postponed to 12 April, so they left. But then the court proceeded to sentence him to three years in prison, and Maikel Nabil Sanad was then taken to Toura prison in Cairo.

Supreme Council of Armed Forces member Mamdouh Shahin commented on the sentencing of Maikel Nabil Sanad in an interview given on Monday to the Egyptian satellite channel ONTV. He said that although freedom of speech should be guaranteed the current laws criminalise words or actions directed at the army’s safety. He added that Nabil has the right to appeal the military court’s decision.

War Resisters' International sent an observer to the trial, who also was not allowed to attend any of the hearings.

Maikel Nabil Sanad is a political activist and blogger, and in April 2009 he founded the "No to Compulsory Military Service Movement". As a pacifist, he declared his conscientious objection, and demanded to be exempted from military service. He was arrested on 12 November 2010, also by military police, but released two days later, and finally exempted from military service on medical grounds.

Maikel Nabil Sanad participated actively in the Egyptian revolution, and especially highlighted the fact that Egypt has effectively been ruled by the military for six decades. He was arrested on 4 February by military police and tortured, but released 27 hours later.

The trial and sentencing comes at a time of growing criticism of the role of the military during the revolution and the transition - exactly the issue Maikel Nabil Sanad wrote about in his blog post from March 2011, which got him arrested. The case is a test of the seriousness of the interim military rulers of Egypt to respect their own interim constitution, which was recently approved in a referendum and came into force at about the same time Maikel Nabil Sanad was arrested. This interim constitution supposedly guarantees freedom of expression and the freedom of the press. However – it seems this does not include the freedom to criticise the present (and effectively past) rulers – the military.

According to an article in the Washington Post from 2 April 2011, at least 5,000 people have been tried in military courts since 28 January 2011. And Human Rights Watch report that since the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) assumed power on 11 February, the military has arrested at least 200 protesters and tried scores of them before military courts. Over 150 protesters arrested on 9 March after the military forcibly cleared Tahrir Square of protesters were sentenced to prison terms by military tribunals in Cairo's high-security Tora prison and are still being held. According to Human Rights Watch, on 22 March, Gen. Etman sent a letter to editors of Egyptian newspapers telling them "not to publish any articles/news/press releases/complaints/advertising/pictures concerning the armed forces or the leadership of the armed forces, except after consulting the Morale Affairs directorate and the Military Intelligence since these are the competent parties to examine such issues to protect the safety of the nation." Human Rights Watch has seen a photocopy of this letter and confirmed its authenticity.

On 9 April, after the largest demonstration in Tahrir Square since Mubarak's resignation, the military attacked the remaining demonstrators in the night, with at least two people shot dead and dozens injured. Increasing numbers of protestors demand the resignation of the chair of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, Mubarak's Defence Minister Mohamed Hussein Tantawi Soliman, and a civilian interim government to oversee the transition.

Sources: War Resisters' International: EGYPT: Egyptian pacifist Maikel Nabil Sanad arrested for insulting the military, 30 March 2011; Bikya Masr: Egypt blogger given 3 years for criticizing military, 12 April 2011; Ahram Online: Egypt Military: Maikel Nabil has the right to appeal and Mubarak’s house arrest does not include a ban on calling or mailing, 12 April 2011; Al-Masry Al-Youm: Military official: Blogger has right to appeal prison sentence, 12 April 2011; Human Rights Watch: Egypt: Blogger’s 3-Year Sentence a Blow to Free Speech, 11 April 2011; Washington Post: Egypt’s military keeping repressive practices in place, 2 April 2011; New York Times: 2 Protesters Killed in Egypt’s Tahrir Square, 9 April 2011