CAIRO: Ahead of a planned demonstration Wednesday in solidarity with detained activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah, his family showed resilience and optimism, as his mother entered her fourth day on hunger strike.
“I’m proud of Alaa,” University professor Laila Soueif told Daily News Egypt at the family’s Dokki apartment. She has always been proud of his stances, she explained, but to see the number of youth who joined a march in his support last week has made her feel even more proud of “his success.”
Abdel-Fattah, an activist and outspoken critic of the ruling military council, was remanded in custody earlier this month pending investigations into accusations of inciting violence, stealing army weapons and vandalizing military property on Oct. 9, during the Maspero events.
On Oct. 30, he refused to be questioned by the military prosecution since the army is party to the crime it is probing, and that as a civilian he should not be interrogated by the military prosecution.
Ahmed Seif El-Islam, Abdel-Fattah’s father and veteran human rights lawyer, explained that the military legal system does not give the court complete independence. The military prosecution has taken over the criminal investigation into the Maspero events, barring any civilian body from probing the deadly crackdown on the mostly Coptic protest in which 27 were either crushed by army vehicles or died of gunshot wounds.
As Seif El-Islam explained, since the case has been referred to a military court, regardless of the independence of the judge handling the case, the final approval of the verdict is in the hands of the head of the Central District General Hassan El-Roweiny, where the crime was committed. This intrinsically mars the credibility of the military court proceedings in a classic case of conflict of interest.
Lawyers had filed complaints against El- Roweiny for his responsibility for the violence. A fact-finding mission by the National Council On Human Rights found that an “unknown third party” fired live ammunition killing seven protesters, and confirmed that the military’s armed personnel carriers crushed at least 12 protesters to death.
The mission called upon the military to release information it was withholding about alleged army casualties that day.
“The biggest victory for Alaa is for his case to become a mere detail,” Seif El-Islam said, “The victory is to get an independent judicial entity to investigate the case. We have to focus on the essence of the issue here.”
On Wednesday morning the family apartment was crowded with activists, journalists, and political analysts answering an open invitation by the family. Discussions delved into many issues, from the role of the military during the transition to political forces ahead of a planned Nov. 18 protest against the imposition of supra-constitutional principals that empower the ruling army council.
A demonstration was organized later that day outside Tora Prison where Abdel-Fattah is currently held. The visitors were also preparing a solidarity statement, to be published online.
A prominent member of the March 9 movement to support university independence, Soueif plans to move her hunger strike to the Cairo University campus on Saturday.
Abdel-Fattah’s wife, Manal Hassan, who has been publishing letters from her husband on their joint blog manalaa.net, showed resilience.
With their first child due this month, she explained the tiresome process of a prison visit. The last time she saw him on Nov. 6, she waited about six hours after registering ay 8 am only to see him for 10 minutes.
Abdel-Fattah was denied release on Nov. 3 but was moved to the Tora Investigations prison before the Eid Al-Adha holidays. His imprisonment is subject to renewal on Saturday, when the prosecutor may either order his release, or remand him in custody for 15 more days or press charges and refer him to court, according to Seif El-Islam.
A decision has to be made by Sunday.
Seif El-Islam, a lawyer and co-founder of the Hisham Mubarak Law Center, said his son was a mere detail in the bigger context of the Maspero case, even for the military prosecutor but emphasized that his son was targeted for his activism.
“A printout of his tweets since he was summoned was put on the desk for us to see as we entered the prosecutor’s office the first time. The tweets are not part of the case,” he said.
In a statement disseminated by Soueif on Wednesday, she referred to the open letter in which she addressed the military judiciary published by the independent daily Al-Shorouk, where she emphasizes that her son was targeted because of his political activism.
“If Alaa is accused of stealing a weapon belonging to the armed forces, why did they not send a force to arrest him and search his house for the alleged stolen weapon? The conduct of the military prosecution in summoning Alaa indicates that it is not taking those charges seriously and yet orders his detention and rejects the appeal submitted by his lawyers to ensure his continued incarceration,” she wrote.
Since Abdel-Fattah was summoned while he was abroad, his father believed that whoever made the decision to bring him in believed that he would not return to face his accusers, effectively pinning the charges on him and allowing for more diversion from the case.
Soueif argues that the laxity with which the investigation and the summoning of Abdel-Fattah was handled proves that the charges are not serious.
Lawyers had repeatedly said the evidence presented against Abdel-Fattah was weak.
Thousands marched last week from Tahrir Square to the Appeal’s Prison, where Abdel-Fattah was held at the time.
“On that day, the number of youth that came up to me and told me they are concerned and that they will not abandon Alaa … made me feel that he has succeeded in his cause,” Soueif told DNE. “They are convinced that they can get Alaa out for me.”
Calm and joking with supporters who filled her apartment that she didn’t look like she was on hunger strike, Soueif was in a somber mood when asked to send her son a message.
“I would tell Alaa to rest assured, not that he’s getting out because we don’t know that, but because the case you bet on has won. If he got arrested, the case would explode.”
If his detention is extended, she continued, the case would explode bringing more attention to the unfairness of military trials for civilians.
At a press conference last Thursday members of the No to Military Trials Campaign coordinated by Abdel-Fattah’s sister Mona, urged civilians to follow in Abdel-Fattah’s footsteps and refuse any interrogation by the military prosecution whether they are summoned as suspects or witnesses.
As Seif El-Islam explained, “the right to remain silent is a basic legal right.”