Egypt military council drops charges against two activists

August 18, 2011

The military council that runs Egypt dropped charges against two high-profile activists Thursday, after a domestic and international outcry.

The two had been charged after they criticized the military on social networking sites. But many challenged the decision, wondering why civilians should be tried in military courts simply for airing their opinions.

Asmaa Mahfouz and Louai Nagati were pardoned because the two were “in a revolutionary condition which had an impact on their performance in public and political arenas,” according to a statement posted on the council’s Facebook page.

Mahfouz, 26, was a key organizer of the 18-day uprising that forced the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak in February. On Sunday she was questioned, charged and referred to a military court after she posted on her Facebook page that if justice was not served in Egypt, violence could ensue.

The military charged her with slander and inciting violence. More than 10,000 civilians have been charged and convicted in military courts since the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces took control of the country Feb. 11. Human rights activists have been pushing aggressively to stop military trials for civilians, but the council defends the system as a necessary protective measure during a time of transition and instability. When subject to intense public pressure, however, the military has backed down.

Mahfouz’s attorney, Hossam Eissa, praised the decision to free his client.

“We raised the issue of the jurisdiction of the military court, and we pointed out that . . . Mohammed Hussein Tantawi himself said that no activist will be put before the military courts,” Eissa said, referring to the field marshal who leads the military council. “This is a very good start, and I’m going to thank them publicly.”

Eissa said he hoped other activists will be released from prison before Eid al-Fitr, the holiday that comes at the end of the holy month of Ramadan, during which Muslims fast from dawn to dusk.

The military’s statement Thursday included a thinly veiled warning: “The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces calls on all the children of this nation of journalists, thinkers, and intellectuals to be careful with the expressions of their viewpoints and opinions and to voice them out in a responsible manner that would not be offensive in order to preserve the light of the January 25 revolution that was protected by the Egyptian Armed Forces.”

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