x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Fears for Egyptian blogger on hunger strike in jail

Maikel Nabil Sanad, jailed for 'insulting Egypt's military establishment' on his blog, is dying in prison, according to relatives, after he went on hunger strike on August 23 and stopped drinking a week ago.

CAIRO // Maikel Nabil Sanad's friends and relatives say he is slowly dying in a prison north of Cairo.

They say the 26-year-old veterinarian has been on hunger strike in El Marg jail since August 23. He stopped drinking water last Tuesday.

Mr Sanad was sentenced to three years in prison in April. He had been arrested by the Egyptian Military Council in March and charged with "insulting the military establishment" and "spreading false information" because of a blog entry titled "The Army and People were never one hand".

It is a wordplay on the protesters' chants of "The army and the people are one hand", which was featured at the demonstrations this year in Tahrir Square.

Though Mr Sanad has not been alone in criticising the military council, his family say the army is singling him out because he refused to join the army two years ago. Military service is mandatory for every male in Egypt between 18 and 30 years old who has at least one brother.

Mark Nabil Sanad, his 18-year-old brother, who carries Maikel's mobile phone everywhere to answer calls from concerned friends, said: "Maikel has been challenging the Military Council for years. He was among the only ones to do so, so they [the army] wanted to punish him.

"He's a pacifist. He's against carrying weapons against other humans and the idea of war," the brother said.

Mark and other Sanad family members, as well as his lawyers, have not been to visit Maikel in prison since he started his hunger strike.

In the March 8 blog entry that resulted in Maikel's imprisonment, he wrote extensively about the military council being a "repressive institution" and its hypocritical message of peace delivered to the people to garner their support.

"Their actions contradict their words all the time. The army warble us, by a sweet-talk method," he wrote, adding that the military council had become the country's biggest enemy, becoming more frightening than Hosni Mubarak, the country's former president, now on trial on charges of corruption and murdering protesters.

Maikel said that army was implicit in the torture and sexual harassment of hundreds of activists, including himself.

His lawyers, supporters and human rights organisations are increasing pressure on Egypt to release him, just as they did Asma Mahfouz and Loay Nagaty, who were also charged with defaming the military council.

Negad Al Borai, a member of Maikel's defence team, said: "I've spoken to him three times by phone and he always wants us to pressure the government and continue pressuring."

His brother says Maikel has been moved to solitary confinement in a cell especially designed for Hamas militants, with several rows of brick walls surrounding a single cell, preventing him from seeing anyone, or hearing anything.

"His country is meant to prize him, not imprison him," said Maikel's father, Nabil Sanad, at a protest in his honour outside the Ministry of Defence last week.

"Maybe he made a mistake by saying his opinion, but now, it's gone past that and he could die at any point holding on to this big responsibility".

Speaking of the hunger strike, Mr Al Borai said: "It's a dangerous game, because perhaps we'll lose him, but he'll continue till he dies because he's very angry and upset."

foreign.desk@thenational.ae