Middle East
Egyptian military jails activist
Activist sentenced to five years in prison as rights organisations condemn trials of civilians in military courts.
Last Modified: 03 Mar 2011 00:55 GMT
Elbihiry was arrested by the military at a peaceful pro-democracy sit-in calling for Prime Minister Shafiq to step down

The arrest and sentencing of Amr Abdallah Elbihiry, 33, an Egyptian activist, has sparked outrage among pro-democracy activists and human rights groups in Egypt.

Elbihiry was convicted and sentenced to five years in military prison on Wednesday by Egypt's Supreme Military Court, after being charged with assaulting a public official on duty and for breaking curfew.

Elbihiry was arrested during the early hours of Saturday morning, in front of the Council of Ministers headquarters, at a peaceful demonstration demanding the resignation of Ahmed Shafiq, the interim prime minister.

He was one of a group of protesters that took part in a peaceful sit-in, which was violently dispersed by the Egyptian armed forces, and military police. Protesters were reportedly beaten with sticks, others with electric shock batons.

The armed forces apologised the following day on their official Facebook page wall claiming that it was a mistake due to unintended clashes between the military police and the protesters.

Dr Laila Mustafa Soueif, a lecturer at Cairo Universitywas present at the sit-in and witnessed first hand the clashes and the initial arrest of Elbihiry.

"I was in the sit-in on Kasr el Aini street, when it was dispersed forcibly by police and military elements. As we were leaving, military elements took Amr Abdallah ElBihiry.

"They [military police] ruthlessly beat him up, my friends and I refused to leave without Amr. A high ranking officer calmed us down, and ordered a lower rank officer to release Amr, his face was severely injured. We all walked away together. But after we parted, we later found out that Amr and five others were arrested.

"Everyone was later released except Amr, he was accused of possessing a pistol. I can affirm that Amr had no weapon in his possession , otherwise military officials would not have released him in the first place," she said.

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rightsand Amnesty International have condemned the sentence and have called on the Egyptian authorities to immediately release ElBihiry.

"The excessive use of force against the protesters on Saturday cannot be justified. An apology cannot replace an investigation. The use of electric shock batons and the allegations of torture or other ill-treatment should be fully and impartially investigated and those responsible brought to justice," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, the deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.

Many Egyptians fear that the latest crackdown on political activists could be the start of a trend of quick military trials in Egypt without the chance for a fair hearing.

Egyptian activists have been campaigning for the release of Elbihiry via social media tools Facebook and Twitter. One activist writes:

"It takes them weeks, months, even years to try the criminals, murderers, and money launderers from the regime, yet this young man gets indicted in less than a week?

"What about the murderers who killed peaceful civilians during January 25? Millions of people witnessed them, why haven't they been arrested and tried?" wrote a blogger.

Many protesters are currently camping out in Tahrir [Liberation] Square, following ongoing protests calling for the resignation of other key figures of the former regime. And many call for millions to attend Friday's protest and to raise the demand for Elbihiry's release along with other protesters arrested since January 25, and the resignation of interim prime minister Ahmed Shafiq.

"Nothing has changed, the current regime must go, it is part of the old regime and they are still practicing their old tricks on us," said one of the protesters in Tahrir, echoing a view voiced by many others who are refusing to leave the square until all the demands of their revolution have been met.

Al Jazeera
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