CAIRO (Reuters) - Egyptian military prosecutors ordered an activist be detained on Sunday for 15 days and another bailed pending investigations into accusations they incited violence, a move rights groups say is part of a crackdown by the ruling army on dissent.
A lawyer for Alaa Abd El Fattah, a high-profile blogger, said he was detained after appearing with activist Bahaa Saber before military authorities on Sunday over “inciting violence and sabotage” in connection with deadly clashes between the army and protesters in Cairo on Oct. 9.
Saber was released on bail, said the lawyer, who said he would appeal Abd El Fattah’s detention despite facing little chance of winning a case against the military prosecutor.
Abd El Fattah’s sister told Reuters he was detained after both activists had refused to answer the army prosecutor’s questions. She said they rejected the “legitimacy of the military prosecutor” and would only speak to a civilian official.
Egyptian military sources were not immediately available to comment on the case.
Some 25 people were killed in clashes that erupted during a demonstration by Christians over what they said was an attack on a church in southern Egypt.
Protesters said military police used excessive force, firing live ammunition and driving army vehicles into the crowds. The army defended their actions during the protest and blamed “foreign elements” and other agitators for the violence.
“They committed a massacre, a horrible crime and now they are working on framing someone else for it,” Abd El Fattah earlier told Reuters on his way to the military prosecutor’s office. “This whole situation is distorted.”
“Instead of launching a proper investigation, they are sending activists to trial for saying the plain truth and that is that the army committed a crime in cold blood,” he said, adding the military was using the “incitement” card to shift the blame away from its own officers.
Authorities have detained 28 others on suspicion of attacking soldiers. Any trial will be before a military court, a move that has drawn broad criticism from politicians who want the army to use civilian courts and say the military cannot be the arbitrator when it is accused of having a role.
London-based rights group Amnesty said Saber could be charged with “verbal incitement” and said alleged videos showing Abd El Fattah throwing rocks during the protests could be used against them.
If charged, the two are also likely to face military trials, the rights group and others said.
Abd El Fattah, a well-known blogger and political activist, was previously arrested in 2006 when ousted President Hosni Mubarak was still office. Critics say the army has been using similar tactics against dissenters as Mubarak did.
Sunday’s detention order was met by condemnation from activists who said the army was attacking “symbols of the revolution.”
“The regime that arrested Alaa in 2006 is the same regime that is arresting him 2011, it has not yet fallen,” Muhamed El-Hajj wrote on Twitter, reviving a ‘Free Alaa’ campaign that was used in 2006 to free the blogger.
Rights groups say over 12,000 civilians have been brought before military courts since the uprising that toppled Mubarak in February, calling into question the willingness of the army council to transform Egypt into a democracy.
“The military justice system should never be used to investigate or prosecute civilians. Military courts are fundamentally unfair, as they deprive defendants of basic fair trial guarantees,” Amnesty said in a statement.
“The fact that military prosecutors are responsible for investigating the violence — for which members of the armed forces are believed to be largely responsible — has raised serious questions over the inquiry’s independence.”
Editing by Sophie Hares