Nabil’s case and cause are ours
While the world celebrated the ushering in of 2012, 26 year-old Egyptian blogger Maikel Nabil – one of the first political prisoners of the post-Hosni Mubarak era – continued to languish in an Egyptian military hospital for exercising his fundamental rights to freedom of expression and association under both Egyptian law and international law.
Nabil – one of the early voices of the recent Tahrir Square revolution and the then-hope of the Egyptian/Arab spring – had initially affirmed on his blog that “the Egyptian army and the people are of one hand” – that the two were working together for freedom, democracy and human rights for Egypt.
After witnessing the army’s repression of civilians, he then wrote that the army and the people were “no longer of one hand,” for which he was convicted last April of “insulting the Egyptian military” and sentenced to three years in prison in a sham legal proceeding before an Egyptian military tribunal.
On Jan. 1 – again under the radar screen of the New Year – Nabil was moved from El-Marg military prison, where he was reportedly tortured, to the Tora Prison Hospital, where his life continues to hang by a thread. Although he reluctantly ended his four-month hunger strike in response to the pleas of his family and friends – and indeed I myself wrote him emphasizing the importance of his staying alive so that his voice could continue to be heard – his health nonetheless remains threatened by prison authorities who stopped administering his necessary medications in his weakened condition.
Nabil has rejected the injustice of his verdict and indeed the very injustice of the military tribunal proceeding – let alone its legitimacy – and rightfully so. Egypt’s ruling military council has tried more than 12,000 people in the post-Mubarak era – more civilians than were tried during the 30 years of Mubarak’s rule – while boasting a 93 percent conviction rate, the remaining percentage being accounted for by matters not yet having gone to trial.
Accordingly, not only is there no presumption of innocence before such tribunals, there is an effective presumption of guilt. There is no right to a trial before an independent and impartial judiciary, as the Egyptian tribunal is an agent of the army. There is no right to rebut evidence, as no consideration of the evidence is permitted. There is no right of appeal, regardless of how manifest the errors of law may be. And there is no right to independent legal counsel, only to a tribunal-appointed lawyer, which Nabil understandably rejected.
Initially, Nabil’s case and cause did not garner the deserving support it warranted – as Egyptian journalist Mohamed Abdelfatah reported – because of his association with unpopular causes. He was a member of the persecuted Coptic Christian community, and also expressed support for “normalization” with Israel, including the protection of the landmark 1979 peace treaty.
However, as Abdelfatah pointed out, the recognition of the enormous injustice in his case, and the cause for which he stands, have moved and mobilized many in the Egyptian community on his behalf, particularly bloggers and cyber-activists. Equally, some 30 major non-governmental organizations, under the leadership of UN Watch, have petitioned major UN bodies in support of his rights.
The international community should stand in solidarity with Nabil and call for his release and the dropping of all charges against him, as the Canadian government and Canadian Parliament have done. Further, the international community should call upon the “new Egypt” to protect its citizens’ fundamental rights – including freedom of expression, association and belief – to ensure the Egyptian spring does not become an Egyptian winter, again taking a lead from Canadian initiatives in this regard.
Egyptian Maj.-Gen. Mokhtar El-Molla recently criticized the intense global attention being directed toward Nabil, referring to him merely as “one citizen out of 85 million.” On the contrary, for the international community, his case and cause should be the measure of Egyptian respect for human rights.
The rallying cry of Nabil’s Egyptian supporters is “We are all Maikel Nabil.” The international community must echo his cry and insist that justice be served before it is too late.
Irwin Cotler is a member of Parliament and a former minister of justice and attorney general of Canada. He has acted as counsel for prisoners of conscience all over the world and is now acting as international legal counsel for Maikel Nabil.