Opinion: Postcards to Political Prisoners and the disturbing case of Mikael Nabil

On 14th December, the decision of Egyptian student and pro-democracy activist Mikael Nabil’s retrial was announced; his sentence was reduced from three years to two. The result of this retrial, leaving little room for further appeal, shows a serious miscarriage of justice, particularly when considering that despite being a civilian, Mikael was sentenced by military tribunal.

Even before the Arab Spring began, Mikael was taking an active role in promoting democracy in Egypt. He was part of the International Federation of Liberal Youth (IFLRY) delegation to the 2009 Liberal International congress in Cairo. Since 2006, Mikael has used his blog to promote the liberal values of human rights, freedom of expression, and democracy. It was for one of these posts that he was arrested; entitled, ‘The Army and the People wasn’t ever one hand’, in which he claims that despite Mubarak’s removal, Egypt remains a dictatorship.

Simply for peacefully expressing his very serious concerns over the developing situation in Egypt, he was arrested on the 28th March 2011, and has since been imprisoned. He was the first blogger to be convicted by a military court since the overthrow of Mubarak, which served as a major attack on free expression in Egypt.

Since August, Mikael has been protesting his imprisonment by a four-month-long hunger strike. Rather than give up following the announcement of his new sentence, he said he would continue to strike, and has done so. His situation is severe. Now in desperate need of medical treatment, Mikael continues to fight for freedom of expression and democracy, showing extreme commitment.

At the beginning of December, Mikael’s efforts were formally recognised by IFLRY, as he became the very first recipient of their Freedom Award, at the General Assembly in Istanbul. Of course, Mikael himself was unable to receive it, but we were joined by Amr El-Bakly from the Cairo Liberal Forum, who accepted it on his behalf. Delegates from Liberal Youth and our sister parties from all around the world wrote supportive messages to Mikael on postcards, to be sent to him in prison.

The disappointing result of Mikael’s retrial is an affront to liberal values. Many other young activists like Mikael are struggling in similar situations in Egypt. Human Rights Watch estimates that he is only one of almost 12000 civilians who have been sentenced by military court since January last year. The work of youth in the Arab Spring has not gone unrecognised, and we should continue to acknowledge the commitment and struggle of young political activists like Mikael. Amnesty International have launched a campaign demanding his release.

Liberal Youth will be following IFLRY’s lead in sending messages of support to Mikael, and other political prisoners, at our Leeds spring conference in March. If you would like to join us in sending Postcards to Political Prisoners, then please contact Liberal Youth’s International or Communications officers; [email protected], [email protected], and [email protected], or sign up at http://www.liberalyouth.org/campaigns/postcards/

We must use the case of Mikael Nabil to campaign for better treatment for all political activists in Egypt. No civilian should be subject to a military trial, and no one should be imprisoned for peacefully expressing their views.

* Harriet Ainscough is a former International Officer of Liberal Youth.

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