(AINA) -- Activist and blogger Dr. Michael Nabil Sanad, 25, began a hunger strike on Tuesday in his cell at Al-Marg prison, in Quliubia province, to protesting the deliberate disregard by the court in setting a hearing for his appeal, presented on July 14 against his prison sentence and the bad treatment he is receiving in prison.
On 10 April 2011 Michael Nabil Sanad was sentenced by a military court to three years imprisonment on charges of "insulting the military and dissemination of false news about the armed forces" in his blog "Son of Ra." The evidence against him was a CD including information from his blog which he had collected from news agencies. Michael Nabil was sentenced in absentia and in violation of legal procedures.
He was arrested at his home in the district of Ain Shams, Cairo on March 28 over an article on his blog titled "The army and the people were not united. Is The Egyptian Army Standing Beside the Revolution?" The article discussed the relationship between citizens and the Egyptian army, criticizing the human rights violations and the political influence of the Egyptian military during and after the Egyptian January 25 Revolution. He wrote "Although the armed forces repeatedly pretended to have taken the side of the revolution, they continued to detain and torture activists just like before the revolution, as if nothing had changed." His allegations were backed by photos and videos.
Nabil Sanad, Michael's father, said he went to Al-Marg prison with his other son Mark, but the prison authorities told him that Michael cannot go on hunger strike as "he is not in an individual cell, but is placed with many other prisoners." He informed them that Michael will go ahead with his strike regardless. The family was not allowed to see him.
"Michael is the first prisoner of conscience in Egypt after the revolution, and the only one who received such a harsh sentence for expressing his opinion ," said his father. "Others in a similar situation, whether activists or journalists, were all set free." He said that they presented three appeals to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to pardon Michael but have received no reply.
Michael's attorney, Maged Hanna, said his client went on a hunger strike on August 23 and he will advise prosecution of this fact whatever the prison authorities say, "as certain steps have to be taken by the prison authorities in a hunger strike, such as informing the prosecution." He advised that he already presented a complaint about Michael's ill treatment in prison.
Hanna said that he was advised today that an appeal hearing was set for December 20, 2011.
Many activists and NGOs are calling for a stop to military prosecution of civilians and equal treatment for Michael regarding his sentence.
Ms Asma Mahfouz, an activist from the April 6 Youth Movement, was charged with defaming the army and inciting armed violence on her Facebook page. The media took up her case and on August 19 the military prosecutors pardoned her.
Dr. Naguib Gabriel, head of the Egyptian Union for Human Rights Organization, sent a message to SCAF asking for equal treatment for Michael with the recently freed activists Loay Najati and Asma Mahfouz. "The release of the Coptic activist Michael Sanad will confirm the principle of citizenship among all citizens without any discrimination based on religion," he said.
Eight Egyptian human rights organizations issued a statement on April 6 criticizing the military council. "A military court is trying an Egyptian blogger over expressed opinions while at the same time extremists cut off a citizen's ear and are pardoned (AINA 3-26-2011). This points to a fatal error, either in the application of justice in Egypt or in how to deal with freedom of opinion and expression after the January 25 revolution."
On April 8, U.S. Senator Mark Kirk and Member of Congress Frank Wolf wrote personally to Field Marshal Tantawi, Chairman of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, asking him not to sentence Nabil but set him free. "Dr. Nabil should not be punished for a simple online blog similar to thousands of others online. Dr. Nabil's arrest appears to have violated Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Therefore, we urge you to release Dr. Nabil to demonstrate the commitment of both our governments to a new era of human rights and democracy in Egypt."
The sentencing Michael on April 10 was done in a secretive way while neither he nor any of his lawyers were present. According to the Arab Network for Human Rights, which was also represented by a lawyer in Michael's defense team, "Lawyers for Michael Nabil had gone on Sunday April 10 to the military court to hear the court's decision, however, the Chief of the military courts told them that the court decided to extend the provision to Tuesday, April 12. Several hours after the lawyer departed news leaked that the verdict against the blogger was a three- year sentenced which was confirmed the next morning."
Michael was arrested twice during the revolution. The first incident was on February 4, before President Mubarak was ousted. He was arrested while participating in the anti-Mubarak protests, holding a banner that read "civil, not military or religious." He was blindfolded, tortured and sexually harassed for two days before being set free. He wrote an article on his blog detailing his experience.
"What was in his blog was common knowledge to all human rights activists and organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International," said activist George Sidhom. "He was one of the first to criticize the role of the military, and they wanted to make an example of him to all bloggers who dared criticize the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces." Sidhom believes the differential Michael receives is because he is a Copt as well as a pacifist and founder of the "No to Compulsory Conscription" Facebook page. He refused to do his military service in 2010 on pacifist grounds. "Most significantly, he is paying the price of daring to openly admire Israel and defends its right to existence, which made the media denounce him as a 'Zionist agent.'"
By Mary Abdelmassih