Maikel Nabil: Two Years and a Two Hundred Pound Note

After a nine-month struggle and over 100 days hunger strike, Maikel Nabil was sentenced to two years in a military prison and a fine of 200 LE. The crime? Offending SCAF. Offending?! It worries me that the military council that is meant to protect 85,000,000 people from all enemies is so easily offended! I would have also liked to know that the tax payers money was being spent on things more serious in this critical time the country is going through than the 9 month trial and retrial of a university pupil picked up from his home for writing in his blog! But apparently, licking wounds to their pride was more serious than investigating the murder of the thousands of people killed by the central security forces during the past year.

Maikel Nabil has said he will escalate his hunger strike to include liquids. This will be the end of him and no matter how strong he has been in holding on to all the principles he held dear, his body functions will betray him. Why do we live in a time where we see the heroes while they are alive and not recognise them or celebrate their struggle till they die? Why?! How is it that the days we went to stand in solidarity with Maikel, only an average of 6 of us turned up and when the sentence was passed twitter and the news were flooded with news and mentions of disappointment? There is such a big disconnect between the people and the belief in the power of their involvement and their actions. It is heartbreaking to see how little people remember of the power of solidarity and how much they can move things when they come together.

I was taken aback by the amount of commiseration I received after the sentence was passed. I got phone calls from my friends abroad and people on Facebook and twitter who knew how passionate I was about this sent me condolences. I found it strange that other people started off telling me that they were sure I was either related to Maikel or that I must have known him well and that they were sorry for how upset I was. This angered me. I am not related to Maikel, I have never once met him and you know what else? I have never read anything he has ever written. Why do I need to be any of those things to care? I care about freedoms, I care for the space I am fooled into thinking I am afforded to express my opinions when people like Maikel prove that I am not!

In 2003 I wrote my Master of Laws thesis on freedom of expression in Egypt. I found that The Egyptian Penal Code restricts constitutional freedoms. Forty-one articles criminalise the expression of opinion, including instigating hatred of the ruling system, humiliating the authorities, the army or Parliament, and arousing public opinion by means of propaganda. It is only the “tolerance” of the government that either allows, or disallows, such freedom. This “tolerance” depends on the political or social situation at the time. For example, between 1984 and 1988, forty-eight decisions were taken to ban publications, most of them dealing with political issues.

Maikel Nabil’s trial, like most others relating to the same conviction, was void of many of the international legal guarantees of a fair trial. There is no appeal against a military court’s judgment for any of the violations to be rectified. It is imperative that Egypt addresses its human rights violations if it is to provide its people with the climate necessary for progress and if it is to fulfill the guarantees it has given in every human rights instrument, which it has signed and ratified. This is perfectly summarized in the recommendations made by Human Rights Watch in their 2002 report on Egypt:

“Abolish Military Order No. 4 of 1992 and seek regular legislative approval of all new laws, or amendments to existing laws, that the government considers necessary to protect the security of Egyptian citizens. Ensure that all trials conform to international standards of fair trial, including granting the defense adequate time to prepare their defense and ensuring that the defense is granted full and prompt access to all relevant court documentation at every stage of the proceedings. · Amend Article 80(d) of the Penal Code to bring that law into compliance with international human rights treaty law protecting freedom of expression and the rights to seek, receive and impart information and ideas. Abolish the Supreme State Security Court and all other extraordinary courts, and insure that all Egyptian courts meet basic international fair trial standards, including by guaranteeing a right to appeal to a higher judicial body. Propose new legislation that grants legal recognition and guarantees full independence to non-governmental associations.”

As long as people in Egypt will continue to fight for the freedom of people and not the freedom of expression, then we are a very long way of understanding this struggle or the lack of commitment towards basic human rights. As long as those who fight for freedom are not on the same side of prison bars as I am, then I am not free.

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