Egypt's army extends prominent blogger's detention

By Ben Hubbard

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Nov. 13 2011 9:55 a.m. MST

In this Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2011 photo, Leila Soueif, the mother of one of Egypt's best known activists, poses for a photo at her home in Cairo, Egypt. Soueif has gone on hunger strike to protest the Oct. 30 detention of her son, Alaa Abdel-Fattah, by Egypt's military rulers. Egypt's military extended the detention of a prominent blogger for 15 days Sunday in move likely to galvanize mounting criticism of Egypt's ruling generals.

Ben Hubbard, Associated Press

CAIRO — Egypt's military ordered a prominent blogger to be held in custody for 15 more days Sunday in a move likely to focus criticism against the country's ruling generals in the run-up to parliamentary elections, due to begin later this month.

The detention of Alaa Abdel-Fattah, a well known blogger and leader during the 18-day uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarak in February, has elicited international condemnation and galvanized those who accuse the army of using Mubarak-era tactics to smear critics.

His family has used his case to draw attention to the 12,000 Egyptians who have faced military trials this year — one of the key issues that have brought relations between activists and the military to a new low.

Protesters welcomed Egypt's army when it deployed in the streets during the uprising and praised it for not firing on demonstrators. Months later, however, some fear that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which took control after Mubarak's fall, will not willingly give up power to a civilian authority. Others accuse the military of reviving hated practices of the Mubarak era.

"Of course we are frustrated," said the blogger's father, Ahmed Seif al-Islam, after Sunday's decision. "At the same time, this gives us the opportunity to further widen our campaign against military trials of civilians."

Military prosecutors summoned Abdel-Fattah and detained him on Oct. 30 after he refused to answer questions over his alleged role in sectarian clashes last month that killed 27 people, most of them Christians.

He has not been charged, though the head of the military court, General Adel al-Mursi said in a statement in Egyptian state media Sunday that Abdel-Fattah is accused of stealing a military weapon, deliberately destroying military property and attacking security forces.

Al-Mursi said Abdel-Fattah "is not being tried on a case of opinion or thought."

Abdel-Fattah denies all allegations. He refuses to speak with military prosecutors because he insists they must have no role in trying civilians.

At the center of the campaign for his release is his family, which includes a number of longtime activists who have taken on new roles since the popular uprising.

The blogger's father spent five years in the same prison complex that now holds his son. The father was jailed for underground organizing against the Mubarak regime during the 1980s. He said he was tortured during interrogation, which led him to become a human rights lawyer after his release. He is now helping defend his son.

His mother, a mathematics professor and longtime campaigner for academic freedom, said Sunday marked her eighth day without food to protest her son's arrest. She vows to continue until he's free.

"I'm going to continue with my hunger strike, and I think that the reaction of everybody, including myself, will be anger," said Laila Soueif, 55.

His wife, Manal Hassan, has smuggled messages from Abdel-Fattah out of prison to be published in local newspapers. She is due to give birth the couple's first child this month. Abdel-Fattah turns 30 this week.

Last week, the United Nations human rights office called on Egypt's military rulers to release him and others locked up for practicing free speech.

Spokesman Rupert Colville said his agency is "concerned about what appears to be a diminishing public space for freedom of expression and association" in Egypt.

Also Sunday, at least one person was killed and several others injured when armed forces fired tear gas and live ammunition at protesters besieging a vital Nile Delta port. They were protesting expansion plans for a local fertilizer factory they say will cause health problems in the area.

Sunday's crackdown came on the fourth day of unrest in Damietta, about 110 miles (180 kilometers) northeast of Cairo.

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