Rights watchdog condemns trial of activist for insulting military

Egypt’s military rulers should drop legal charges being leveled against a local activist, Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday, declaring that the case is quickly becoming a landmark test for freedom of expression in Egypt.

The military prosecutor’s decision to pursue the case against former April 6 Youth Movement leader Asmaa Mahfouz “is a serious escalation of efforts by military leaders to silence critical voices,” the London-based human rights watchdog said in a press release.

Mahfouz’s case is the latest in a series of military trials for civilian protesters, which have been decried by local and international human rights organizations, politicians and Egyptian citizens. At least seven other civilians face prosecution on charges of insulting the military, according to Human Rights Watch.

“The decision to try Asmaa Mahfouz is a major attack on free expression and fair trials, using the same abusive laws the Mubarak government used against its critics,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The military is using her to silence potential critics, sending the message that criticizing the current military government will land them in jail.”

After questioning Mahfouz on Sunday regarding her Twitter posts and comments to the media that the military failed to intervene to protect protesters during clashes in the Cairo neighborhood of Abbasseya on 23 July, the military prosecution charged her with insulting the military, spreading false information and calling for threats to social peace.

State news agency MENA reported Tuesday that the second two charges were dropped and Mahfouz was referred to court on the charge of insulting the military.

Reporters without Borders, Amnesty International, the 25 January Revolution Youth Coalition and presidential hopefuls Mohamed ElBaradei, Ayman Nour and Hazem Abu Ismail are among those that have called on Egypt’s ruling military council to drop the charges.

A Facebook page titled “In Solidarity with Asmaa Mahfouz” in Arabic has garnered more than 26,000 supporters.

Stork said that “the military is prosecuting her under a blatantly abusive law. This charge should be dropped immediately.”

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