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One year ago, just before Egypt’s President Mubarak was toppled, protesters called the military to their side: The side of history. Hundreds of thousands chanted, “The army. The people. One hand.” The army was seen, then, as heroic. But now many fear the mighty Egyptian military with its vast economic resources will not relinquish power — that it has betrayed the revolution.
More than 12,000 civilians caught in army netherworld.
Egyptian blogger Alaa Abd El-Fattah speaks at the Personal Democracy Forum in New York City on June 6, 2011, a few months before his military detention back home.
He was temporarily released, only to be apprehended again and then taken into a netherworld of military prisons and a military court system which human rights activists here say is systematically denying civilians their basic right to a fair trial.
Soon after his arrest, the movement “No Military Trials” was started by the daughter of the long-time human rights activist who first tried to help El-Beheiry in Tahrir Square when he was originally detained. Mona Seif said that her mother’s actions on behalf of El-Beheiry and the quick succession of others cases like it forced her to realize that “the detention of protesters by military personnel was systematically happening in the back stage of the revolution.”
Seif is a 25 year old researcher at a breast cancer research center run by Cairo University. Just like El-Beheiry, the January 25 uprising turned her into a hard core female activist who refused to surrender her cause despite security intimidation, detention, brutality and the risk of losing her job.
The Egyptian military, which was originally celebrated as heroic defenders of the revolution, has shown very different colors in recent months, according to Seif and growing chorus of criticism across Egyptian society.
“They (the military) pretended to defend the revolution, and they continued with the same suppressive practices we revolted against,” says Mona Seif.
Amr El-Beheiry’s family also stepped up to highlight his case. They filed around 300 complaints and requests for a retrial over the past year. And then his family was told that he would finally be permitted to stand retrial. But they say they were never told of the trial date. To date, El-Beheiry remains in El-Wadi El-Gedid prison compound, a maximum security facility located in Egypt’s western desert, around 500 kilometers from the capital Cairo.
El-Beheiry’s brother, Mohammed, told GlobalPost that the family is kept completely in the dark as to any of his legal proceedings. He said they are worried about Amr’s well-being after getting a glimpse at what his brother suffered in military detention.
“When I first visited him he was injured and left untreated, his head injury was infected because of the lack of medical attention in jail,” said Mohammed.
But this was not the only case of brutality at the hands of the military. Hundreds of other physical abuse cases were documented over 11 months of military rule, human rights activists say.
The case of El-Beheiry and around 9000 others since February 2011 has brought the ruling generals of Egypt under fiery criticism and raised questions about their intentions toward the ongoing revolution.
"No Military Trials," the initiative inspired by El-Beheiry’s detention, has organized dozens of protests against the ongoing violation of human and civil rights, but their efforts seem to have little influence on the policies of the SCAF’s ruling generals.
Ragia Omran, an Egyptian female activist and lawyer specializing in military trials of civilians said that torture has been “consistently used toward those detained by military police.” She says that physical abuse was documented in almost all protests and strikes dispersed by the military “on March 9, April 9, Israeli Embassy protests, May 15, June 28, September 9, the last week of November and mid-December when they dispersed the sit-in beside the cabinet building.”
Most of those detained by the military police were stripped of their legal rights and according to Omran, “The case is usually built on a reports filed by arresting officers, reports that normally don’t include any details or substantial evidence.”
The European Parliament issued a statement on November 17 after the detention of Egyptian blogger Alaa Abd El-Fattah.
“The European Parliament calls for the immediate release from prison of Egyptian blogger Alaa Abd El-Fattah and reiterates its call to stop prosecution of civilians by military courts in Egypt,” said the official statement.
The blogger who was detained on charges of stealing military weapons, attacking government facilities and killing a soldier decided not to answer to military prosecutors. His boycott continued for three consecutive questioning sessions before he reached an unprecedented success and was referred to a civilian criminal court along with over 60 other detainees.
There has been a significant decrease in use of military trials against civilians in recent months, but more than 9000 prisoners continue to serve time.
“Military trials of civilians have not stopped yet; however, there has been a significant decrease in the cases reviewed by the Military Prosecution since the events of Israeli Embassy on September 9,” said the lawyer and human rights activist Ragia Omran.
Omran thinks the decrease in military trials for civilians “was achieved by the combined efforts of local protesters, the media, and international organizations that harshly criticized the practice.”
While the cases are being highlighted, what actually goes on inside the prison walls is largely unknown.
But Abul Maati Ahmed provided a glimpse.