Egyptian blogger's hunger strike turns critical; hearing delayed

The Egyptian military has postponed by three weeks an appeal hearing for blogger Maikel Nabil Sanad, whose case symbolizes the lack of freedom of expression in Egypt today.

Ann Hermes/Staff
Mark Nabil Sanad, the brother of imprisoned blogger Maikel Nabil Sanad, campaigns for the release of Maikel Tuesday in front of the military prosecution headquarters in Cairo. He called the delay of a scheduled appeal a death sentence for his brother, who has been on a hunger strike for 43 days.

Egypt’s military prosecution today postponed the appeal hearing of Maikel Nabil Sanad, an imprisoned blogger convicted of criticizing the military. His brother Mark said the three-week delay amounted to a death sentence, since Maikel – now 43 days into a hunger strike – has vowed to abstain from water as well as food beginning today.

“By postponing the case until Oct. 11, they are killing him,” said Mark, speaking outside the military prosecution headquarters today. He said the prosecution postponed the case because his brother’s file was not placed before the judge as it should have been – a reason Mark called “silly and stupid.”

For rights activists, the blogger's case has become a symbol of the crackdown on freedom of expression carried out by Egypt’s military rulers, who promised to guide Egypt to democracy but have instead continued the repressive policies of former President Hosni Mubarak. But the lack of public support he has received is also a sobering warning for Egypt’s future.

While other Egyptians arrested for their tweets or blog posts have garnered waves of public support that likely encouraged their release, only a couple dozen protesters were present outside the military prosecution Tuesday to support Mr. Sanad. Activists say many have refused to fight for Sanad because of his unorthodox views – he is an atheist and has a more favorable stance toward Israel than most Egyptians.

Sanad’s case is important because “it’s a freedom of speech case,” says Maha Maamoun, a project coordinator at the Hisham Mubarak Law Center who was outside the military court Tuesday. She said she did not expect a large crowd in support of the imprisoned blogger because of his unpopular views. “People won’t support much someone they disagree with,” she said. “People still do discriminate between people who have the same thinking or ideology” and those who don’t – like Sanad.

Several bystanders told foreign journalists covering the protest to leave Egypt, and activists reported that someone in a nearby residential building dropped a note down on the crowd telling them to leave, threatening “we’ll pour water on you.” His story has not received extensive coverage in local press, in part because of a warning to newspapers by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the interim rulers of Egypt, not to publish anything related to the council.

The slim blogger in his 20s was sentenced to three years in prison in April for “insulting the military establishment” and “spreading false information.” Human Rights Watch in April called his case one of the worst strikes against freedom of expression in Egypt since the Mubarak regime began jailing bloggers in 2007.

He was arrested after he wrote a blog post titled, “The army and the people were never one hand,” which discussed the Army’s abuse of protesters, including using electric shocks and subjecting female protesters to so-called “virginity checks.” But that was not his first run-in with the military. Sanad, a pacifist, had refused conscription into the Egyptian army and had campaigned against forced conscription, which he likened to slavery.

Reporters Without Borders says Sanad is suffering from serious medical problems as a result of his hunger strike and has been denied medical care in prison.

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