October 1, 2011 was Maikel Nabil Sanad’s birthday and he spent it like he has spent most of the past month, on hunger strike against his imprisonment for speaking out against the Government.
An Egyptian blogger who has been working to expose the abuses of power of the Mubarak regime, Sanad was convicted on charges of publicly insulting the army on Facebook and via his blog. In his post, Sanad called for an end to military conscription which he said should be voluntary instead of mandatory. He also drew attention to the continuing abuses by the military regime highlighting case after case in which protestors were arrested, beaten as military thugs and even tortured.
Maikel Nabil Sanad was arrested on March 28, 2011 at his home in Cairo and was convicted by a military court on April 10 2011 and was sentenced to three years in prison for the crime of “spreading lies and rumors” about the Government. His family, who came to court to attend the hearing, was told that the hearing had already taken place and their son and brother already sentenced.
Sanad’s arrest and sentence are particularly troubling because they expose the superficiality of some of the reforms instituted in the post-Mubarak era. Sanad wrote that “little had changed and in fact things were getting worse”. His brother Mark Sanad told Amnesty International that “over 12,000 people had been referred to military trials” since the January protests began.
While the world’s attention has been focused on high profile cases like the trial of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak who is being tried for complicity in the deaths of nearly 840 protestors; the harsh sentence imposed on Nabil Sanad is a troubling development for free speech in Post-Mubarak Egypt.
According to news reports, several bloggers and journalists have been summoned by the military government in the past few months and the offices of Al-Jazeera Mubashir, a local affiliate of Al-Jazeera have been ransacked. It is also reported that the new Egyptian Minister for Information Osama Heikal has warned against media outlets “inciting protests”. On September 8, 2011 the Egyptian Ministry of Information issued a freeze on private satellite television stations saying that legal charges would be initiated against broadcasters who “incited sedition and violence.”
In the meantime, Maikel Nabil Sanad’s condition in prison has continued to deteriorate. On a visit to El Marg prison on September 19th, his family learned that prison authorities had discontinued his heart medication because they said it could not be administered without a doctor’s supervision. His weight is also reported to be plummeting and his family who visited him on his birthday on October 1, 2011 is gravely concerned that he will not be able to survive much longer. The appeal on his sentence which was initially set for October 4, 2011 has now been postponed to October 11, 2011.
As has been pointed out by international human rights organizations and Egypt analysts, Maikel Nabil Sanad’s case represents an effort by the Egyptian military to continue the repressive practices of old and a continued denial of the fundamental freedom of expression that thousands of young Egyptians have so vociferously demanded. In this sense, the capacity of Egyptians and the international community to press for Maikel Nabil Sanad’s release is a test of whether the Post-Mubarak regime can be held accountable to its promises of change.