By Ahmed Hazem and Amira Salah-Ahmed
CAIRO: Egyptian blogger and activist Hossam El-Hamalawy, television presenter Reem Maged and journalist Nabil Sharaf El-Din were released Tuesday after “chatting” with Military Prosecution.
El-Hamalawy, known as 3arabawy, said he just “chatted” with officers and was asked to provide proof of reported violations by the military.
“The visit to the military prosecutor became later a ‘chat’ where they wanted ‘clarifications’ for my accusations against General [Hamdy] Badeen,” El-Hamalawy said on his Twitter account after being released.
“The day ended with the officers promising to look into those cases as well as whatever we’ll be presenting them in the coming days,” he added, urging anyone with information about abuses to report them to human rights groups.
Lawyers said no official investigation was opened with the three, who were summoned for questioning by the army Monday over statements made on Thursday’s episode of OnTV’s “Baladna Bil Masry” that were critical of the army.
Maged was only called in as a witness. She also told journalists after being released that it was not an official questioning, but more for clarification.
“I told officers that this is seen as a form of intimidation, and instead they should have called in to the show so that public opinion is not turned against them,” she said, adding that they spoke to officers about the need for more transparency between the council and the media.
On the nightly talk show, El-Hamalawy demanded that military police be investigated for reported violations and that the head of military police, General Hamdy Badeen, be held accountable.
Also on the show, Sharaf El-Din spoke about a “bargain” between the army and the Muslim Brotherhood, which was denied by army council members.
After taking over power from ousted president Hosni Mubarak, the army has faced criticism from human rights groups after trying hundreds of civilians in military courts. Amnesty International has said many protesters arrested during the 18-day uprising against Mubarak reported abuse by soldiers and is calling for an official investigation.
The three being summoned to Military Prosecution riled the anger of activists and supporters on social networking websites, who quickly mobilized in solidarity with El-Hamalawy, Maged and Sharaf El-Din.
Around 100 protesters gathered outside Military Prosecution in Nasr City early on Tuesday, chanting against military trials of civilians.
Protesters spray painted the words “The only red line is Egyptians’ dignity,” on the street outside the entrance of the Military Prosecution office.
Late on Monday, El-Hamalawy appeared on a program with Mahmoud Saad on Tahrir TV but was abruptly cut off when he said the army should be held accountable for its actions since it is playing a political role and receives funds from the national budget from taxpayers’ money.
The Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) condemned the “ongoing policy of the [army] council in suppressing the freedom of expression and dispersing fear among Egyptian journalists, people working in the media and judges as well.”
It added that in its “current political role” the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) is “bound to accept all types of criticism against it, even tough ones, citing that it had repeatedly declared its support to freedom of expression and acceptance of criticism.”
Meanwhile, CNN reported Tuesday that a senior Egyptian general admitted that “virginity checks” were performed on women arrested when a Tahrir Square sit-in was forcefully broken up on March 9.
“Virginity tests are an insult to all Egyptian women,” El-Hamalawy told reporters after coming out of the military prosecution office.
“The meeting does not change anything. It is a matter of principle,” he added, reiterating his stance against military trials for civilians.
According to the CNN report, “The allegations arose in an Amnesty International report, published weeks after the March 9 protest. It claimed female demonstrators were beaten, given electric shocks, strip-searched, threatened with prostitution charges and forced to submit to virginity checks.”
These allegations have been repeatedly denied by the army council, and this anonymous general’s testimony is the first such admittance.
“The girls who were detained were not like your daughter or mine,” the general said. “These were girls who had camped out in tents with male protesters in Tahrir Square, and we found in the tents Molotov cocktails and (drugs).”
“We didn’t want them to say we had sexually assaulted or raped them, so we wanted to prove that they weren’t virgins in the first place,” the general said. “None of them were [virgins].”
ANHRI said, “Once again we reiterate that the Egyptian revolution had broken out against the oppression, suppression and violation of freedom of expression, and the sovereignty of law means evidently that nobody is above criticism including [SCAF], which is currently playing a political role.”