Egyptian military prosecutors have extended the detention of a prominent activist and blogger, pending investigations into accusations that he incited violence and attacked military personnel during deadly protests.
The extension, announced on Sunday, will add 15 days to Alaa Abd El Fattah’s previous sentence of 15 days, which was handed down on October 30 after he refused to be interrogated by a military prosecutor.
“Instead of launching a proper investigation, they are sending activists to trial for saying the plain truth and that is that the army committed a crime in cold blood.”
– Alaa Abd El Fattah, detained blogger
Fattah has refused to recognise a military court, which accuses him of inciting violence during Egypt’s October 9 “Maspero massacre” – in which 25 people, mostly Coptic Christians, were killed during clashes with thugs and the military near the state TV building.
Instead, he has requested that his trial be held in civilian court, arguing that it is illegal for the military to lead an investigation into a case in which its forces are implicated.
In an interview last month, Mona Seif, Abd El Fattah’s sister, told Al Jazeera that he was being used as a scapegoat by the Egyptian military.
“He was arrested because the military are trying to find someone else to blame for the massacre that happened on the ninth of October,” she said.
Protesters said military police used excessive force, firing live ammunition and driving army vehicles into the crowds.
The clashes erupted during a demonstration by Christians over what they said was an attack on a church in southern Egypt.
The army defended its actions during the protest and blamed “foreign elements” and other agitators for the violence.
“They committed a massacre, a horrible crime and now they are working on framing someone else for it,” Abd El Fattah told the Reuters news agency last month.
“This whole situation is distorted. Instead of launching a proper investigation, they are sending activists to trial for saying the plain truth and that is that the army committed a crime in cold blood,” he said.
If charged, Abd El Fattah is likely to face military trial, London-based rights group Amnesty International and others said.
Amnesty said alleged videos showing Abd El Fattah throwing rocks during the protests could be used against him.
Responding to these charges, Mona Seif said: “I think ‘violence’ is the wrong term to describe what we are doing as a defence against an army”.
Authorities have also detained 29 others on accusations of attacking soldiers.
Abd El Fattah was previously arrested in 2006 when ousted President Hosni Mubarak was still in office. Critics say the army has been using similar tactics against dissenters as Mubarak did.
Last month’s detention order was met by condemnation from activists who said the army was attacking “symbols of the revolution”.
“The regime that arrested Alaa in 2006 is the same regime that is arresting him 2011, it has not yet fallen,” Muhamed El-Hajj wrote on Twitter, reviving a ‘Free Alaa’ campaign that was used in 2006 to free the blogger.
Rights groups say more than 12,000 civilians have been brought before military courts since the uprising that toppled Mubarak in February, calling into question the willingness of the army council to transform Egypt into a democracy.
“The military justice system should never be used to investigate or prosecute civilians. Military courts are fundamentally unfair, as they deprive defendants of basic fair trial guarantees,” Amnesty said in a statement.
“The fact that military prosecutors are responsible for investigating the violence – for which members of the armed forces are believed to be largely responsible – has raised serious questions over the inquiry’s independence.”