Saving Maikel Nabil

The international community must echo his cry and insist that justice be served before it is too late.

Maikel Nabil 311  (photo credit: Courtesy)
Maikel Nabil 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Egyptian blogger Maikel Nabil, 26, has just passed the 120th day of a hunger strike that may claim his life.
One of the early voices in Tahrir Square – inspiring the Egyptian-Arab Spring – Nabil became the first political prisoner in the post- Mubarak era simply for exercising his fundamental rights.
While he initially affirmed the notion that “the Egyptian army and the people are of one hand” – that the two were working together for freedom, democracy and human rights for Egypt – he later wrote on his blog that the army and the people were “no longer of one hand” when he saw the army repressing protesters. For this act of defiance he was charged with “insulting the Egyptian military” and convicted last April in a sham legal proceeding before a military tribunal. This past week in a re-trial – amidst the renewed brutality in Tahrir Square – his conviction was upheld.
The verdict came in a hearing that had been postponed several times after Nabil earlier rejected an offer of freedom in exchange for a confession of his alleged crime. The tribunal’s decision has since been condemned by Reporters without Borders and other NGOs, while the United States State Department reported that the US continues to “urge the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to reconsider this verdict,” adding, “We call on the government to protect the universal rights of all Egyptian citizens, including the right to free expression.”
Upon hearing the result, Nabil announced that his hunger strike would now be limited to consumption of water, whereas he had previously been drinking juice.
Nabil rejects the injustice of his verdict and indeed the legitimacy of the military tribunal – and rightfully so. Egypt’s ruling military council has tried 12,000 people in the post- Mubarak era – more civilians than were tried during all of Mubarak’s rule. Moreover, the tribunal currently boasts above a 93-percent conviction rate – the remaining percentage can be accounted for by matters not yet having gone to trial.
Accordingly, not only is there no presumption of innocence before such tribunals, there is a presumption of guilt. There is no right to a trial before an independent and impartial judiciary, as the Egyptian tribunal is an agent of the army. There is no right to rebut evidence, as no consideration of the evidence is permitted. There is no right of appeal, regardless of how manifest the errors of law may be. And there is no right to independent counsel, only to a tribunal-appointed lawyer. At a prior hearing, Nabil’s lawyer called for Nabil’s confinement in a psychiatric prison, whose director released Nabil and pronounced him perfectly sane.
At the request of Nabil’s family, I have been serving as his international legal counsel and raising his case in international fora – including at the UN several weeks ago. This past week I again raised his case in the House of Commons and was informed by Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird that he had met the Egyptian ambassador and “expressed Canada’s deep disappointment and real profound concern over the way this democracy activist had been treated.”
“We demanded that this individual be let free and treated fairly in accordance with international standards of freedom and democracy,” he continued. “As of yet, we have not had a positive response, and we will continue to look to ensure that justice is done in this case.”
The rallying cry of Nabil’s Egyptian supporters is “We are all Maikel Nabil.”
The international community must echo his cry and insist that justice be served before it is too late.
The writer is a Canadian member of Parliament and former minister of justice and attorney-general of Canada. He has acted as counsel for prisoners of conscience all over the world and is now acting as international legal counsel for Maikel Nabil.