South Africans have unhappy memories of detention without trial. We remember how it was used against people who protested or spoke against the apartheid regime. So we should be very concerned that the Egyptian military are using it against those who question them.
The Egyptian military have unlawfully detained Alaa Abd El Fattah an Egyptian technology entrepreneur who lived in exile in South Africa until the transition in Egypt began. He returned to Egypt to work for democracy. The transition to democracy is threatened by the behaviour of the Egyptian military in detaining civilians like Alaa without trial, and subjecting them to military trials.
According to Global Voices:
“Egypt’s veteran blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah (@alaa) was detained today (Sunday, Oct. 30) for 15 days pending investigation after refusing to be interrogated by a military investigator, insisting on his right to be tried before a civil court.
Alaa was called in for investigation last week in light of the Maspiro events in Cairo, where 27 people died and many more were injured after the army cracked down on a Christian-majority demonstration. Alaa was very active in the aftermath of these tragic events, and spent two days at the morgue alongside other activists in solidarity with the victims’ families, while trying to convince them to agree to autopsies and trying to make sure the reports of the autopsies are correctly documented. Alaa wrote a very moving piece of that experience in Al Shorouk newspaper (a translation of which can be found here) in which he repeatedly reminded everyone that solidarity is the way out of any problems in Egypt.
Alaa was in San Francisco when he was called to the investigation last week. His father, veteran human rights lawyer Ahmed Seif El Islam Abdel Fattah, appeared in court and asked for the case to be postponed. Alaa came back to Cairo on Saturday afternoon and appeared in court on Sunday morning.”
The Mubarak regime detained Alaa for 45 days without trial in 2006. Now the Egyptian military prosecutor is behaving in the same way. The detention was ordered by a military tribunal and not a court. That alone would renders it unlawful under international human rights law. I detail exactly which human rights provisions a little later in this post. Boing Boing links to more detail.
The detention was ordered because Alaa refused to answer questions by the military prosecutor because he does not recognise the right of military prosecutors to interrogate civilians, and he refuses to recognise the right of military tribunals to try civilians. I know Alla, the charges are ludicrous and patently designed to deflect criticism of the role of the military in violence against Egyptians.
I’ve sent the following email to the Egyptian Ambassador to South Africa protesting Alaa’s unlawful detention. I’ve also sent copies to the South African Minister of International Relations and Co-operation and the South African Human Rights Commission. I haven’t asked the South African authorities to do anything at this stage but think it is necessary to make them aware that South Africans are very unhappy about this development and may call upon them to act if the situation is not remedied soon.
If you share my concern then join me in contacting the Egyptian Ambassador in your country. You may freely re-use the following email without attribution*.
To: email@example.com, Minister@dirco.gov.za, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Ambassador of Egypt to the Republic of South Africa
As a South African I was inspired by the movement towards democracy in Egypt and looked forward to South Africa working with Egypt as partners to uphold democracy in Africa. I have however received news that the Egyptian military has unlawfully detained Mr Alaa Abd El Fattah.
Mr Alaa Abd El Fattah was apparently detained by a military prosecutor because he refused to accept the jurisdiction of the prosecutor over civilians. Detention of anyone by a government official other rather than a court is contrary to the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Article 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights requires. “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.” Article 11 (1) of the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights requires “Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.” Allowing a prosecutor to order imprisonment is to allow a prosecutor to act as judge in his own trial. A prosecutor cannot make an impartial or unbiased decision. Detention on order of a military prosecutor also violates The United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which stipulates in Article 9 that:
“(1) Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention. No one shall be deprived of his liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedure as are established by law.
(2) Anyone arrested or detained on a criminal charge shall be brought promptly before a judge or other officer authorized by law to exercise judicial power and shall be entitled to trial within a reasonable time or to release. It shall not be the general rule that persons awaiting trial shall be detained in custody, but release may be subject to guarantees to appear for trial, at any other stage of the judicial proceedings, and, should occasion arise, for execution of the judgment.”
Mr. Alaa Abd El Fattah objected to the competence of military tribunal to try civilians. Trial by a military tribunal instead of civilian court in both principle and in practice in Egypt violates both the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Article 10 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights requires that: “Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.” Article 14 of the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights requires that: “(1) All persons shall be equal before the courts and tribunals. In the determination of any criminal charge against him, or of his rights and obligations in a suit at law, everyone shall be entitled to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law.”
The members of a military tribunal are subject to military discipline, lack security of appointment and thus cannot be competent or independent or impartial. Since Mr. Alaa Abd El Fattah has been critical of the involvement of the Egyptian military in violence against civilians and of military courts trying civilians a military tribunal cannot possibly behave in a competent, independent and impartial manner in respect of allegations against him.
Kindly convey to your government that South Africans such as myself are outraged by the unlawful detention of Mr. Alaa Abd El Fattah. His detention without trial is reminiscent of the invidious methods of the erstwhile apartheid regime in South Africa and suggests that the Egyptian military are not committed to a transition to democracy.
You will note that I have sent a copy of this email to the Minister for International Relations and Co-operation and the South African Human Rights Commission. While I am not calling on these authorities to take any action in this email should the Egyptian government not release Mr. Alaa Abd El Fattah shortly I and many other South Africans will request them to take action. As you may already know every part of the South African state is legally obliged to respect, protect and promote human rights.
You can also telefax the Egyptian Embassy in Pretoria on at Fax number: +27 12 343 1082 or call them at +27 12 343 1590 / 1591 or +27 12 344 6040 to protest.
* The usual requirements of the Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike license are waived for this email.