Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Egypt: Mohammed Abdallah Ali, “The trial was in a kitchen”

Source: IRIN

CAIRO, 24 October 2011 (IRIN) - As the relationship between pro-democracy activists and the ruling military deteriorates in post-revolutionary Egypt, the practice of putting civilians through deeply flawed military trials has been a growing source of friction.

By September, according to Human Rights Watch, almost 12,000 civilians had been tried in military courts since President Hosni Mubarak was overthrown in February - usually charged with theft, possessing weapons or “thuggery”. Less than 1,000 have been found “not guilty”. More than 7,000 of them are still languishing in jail. The rest received suspended sentences, leaving years of jail time hanging over their heads should they once again displease the military.

Activists say many of the arrests are blatantly political, and that the military trials lack the basic standards of fairness. Most defendants are tried without legal counsel by a military officer. Evidence and witnesses presented by the defence are frequently refused. People are often tried in groups, with group sentences handed out, even where members of the group were arrested under entirely different circumstances. Many defendants report speaking only once during the trial, to say their name or that they are present. In most cases, activists say, the trial is more of an administrative procedure than a judicial one.

Twenty protesters arrested during the so-called Maspiro Massacre on 9 October will also face military courts.

Mohammed Abdallah Ali was one of the earlier activists to undergo such a trial. He was arrested with around 100 others in Cairo’s protest hub, Tahrir Square, on 9 March and tried on weapons and vandalism charges. They were among the lucky ones. After about a month behind bars, during which activists campaigned vigorously for their release, the group received suspended sentences of one year.

Mohammed told his story during a gathering at Cairo's Centre for Socialist Studies earlier this year:

“About the violations that took place, well, everyone knows that we were put on trial, and that the trial was in a kitchen. The judges and the district attorney [DA] were there. And the DA had both hands full. One hand held the TV remote control and the other hand held a taser. He had his legs crossed. Another officer sat 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 would give you a shock. So, basically, he surpassed his own role or job assigned to him - that is to investigate and keep a record. No, they took it upon themselves to do what police officers [under Mubarak] used to do and what we had revolted against.

“Now, to get to the point, we still face the same old regime in a new disguise. I repeat, we still face the old dictatorship regime in its new disguise. I would like to recite a poem we had written as a group when we were in prison:

“I thought the dream had come true
No one around was untrue
The world is free and happiness surrounds me
And all those around me, tell me not to worry
Fear has gone and falseness has no place here
I was surprised to find that all is still suspended
Fight how you want, fear has taken control
And corruption has gained the upper hand
And I answered in a voice that held back my sadness
I’m optimistic, and I still believe
My God, is almighty
He brings life and death
I will fight for you always, my country
And I will not follow those who tell me to stop
And I will achieve my dream one day
Victory will be my ally one day
History will record this in words of light
And a curse on whoever had silenced the truth
The revolution will not die down, oh country of the Nile
As long as your children drown in your waters
The revolution will not die down, I have faith
And I do not mind being called a fool for that today.”

Copyright © IRIN 2011. All rights reserved. This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.