Egypt court orders release of jailed blogger Alaa

Egypt’s judiciary decided on Sunday to free blogger and activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, who has spent the past two months in custody, a judicial source and his sister said.

Mona Abdel Fattah said a court ordered Alaa, who was remanded into custody on October 30, released, and that he was expected to be freed in the next few hours.

The blogger, who was also jailed under ousted president Hosni Mubarak, was accused of inciting violence during an October 9 demonstration by Coptic Christians in Cairo.

A judicial source said Abdel Fattah was banned from travelling under the conditions of his release.

He faces charges of vandalism during the demonstration that degenerated into clashes with soldiers in which at least 25 people were killed, most of them Copts protesting over the burning of a church in the southern city of Aswan.

The young man refused to undergo questioning by the military prosecution on the grounds that the military itself was implicated in the case and that it had no right to try civilians.

Coptic witnesses said they were fired upon by soldiers during a protest march and that several people were killed when armoured vehicles ran over and crushed them.

The army denies it used excessive force and says several of its soldiers were killed in the clash, but refused to give a toll. State TV reported three soldiers killed, but without citing a source.

Military officials have said they were investigating soldiers’ conduct during the violence, but have provided no further details.

The military, which took power after Mubarak’s ouster in February, has been criticised for putting thousands of civilians on trial in military courts.

In November, Amnesty International called on the Egyptian authorities to lift the emergency law, which has been expanded to cover even more offences including labour strikes and spreading “false rumours”.

The watchdog said around 12 000 civilians had faced military courts in just nine months under military rule on charges including “thuggery” and “insulting the army”.

The detention of Abdel Fattah rallied anti-military activists who want an immediate transfer of power to civilians.

Hunger strike
The chief evidence against Abdel Fattah is a journalist’s testimony that she saw him carrying a rifle stolen from a soldier, but the blogger denies he was even at the site of the clashes, arriving late to witness the aftermath.

The military says it does not prosecute people because of their beliefs or statements, but it has refused to free a blogger jailed for two years after writing criticism of the army.

The blogger, Michael Nabil, had his sentence reduced this month to two years in prison, after a military court initially sentenced him to three years in April.

He has been on hunger strike since August, accepting only juice and milk, his family says. — Reuters

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