Egyptian blogger faces military trial

New York, March 1, 2010—The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on Egyptian authorities to drop the charges against blogger Ahmad Mostafa, who is facing up to one year in prison pending the outcome of his ongoing trial in a military court.

Mostafa was arrested on the orders of a military prosecutor on Thursday in Kafr el-Sheikh, a city north of Cairo, on charges of “disseminating false information” and “tarnishing the image of the military,” Reuters reported. In February 2009, Mostafa recounted on his blog Matha Assabak ya Watan? (What has afflicted you, my country?) the story of a student who had allegedly been forced to give up his seat at the Egyptian Military Academy in favor of another applicant who had paid a bribe to gain admission.

According to his lawyer, Mohamed Mahmoud, Mostafa was transferred to a Cairo military court on Saturday and his trial began immediately. The court is expected to issue its verdict on March 2.

Egypt‘s Emergency Law, in force since 1981, allows indefinite detention and trials of civilians in military courts. The law is invoked in cases ostensibly involving potential threats to national security or terrorism.

“We condemn the arrest of Ahmad Mostafa and urge the authorities to drop these trumped-up charges,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Mohamed Abdel Dayem. “We demand that the Egyptian government stop the seemingly endless harassment of independent journalists and bloggers under the guise of the Emergency Law.”

Mahmoud said that, if convicted, his client could face up to one year in prison. He added that he can only appeal the decision through the High Military Appeals Court, and only President Hosni Mubarak can overturn rulings handed down by a military appeals court.

“My client didn’t disclose any secrets but was simply reporting on a case of corruption inside the school, which had to be exposed,” Mahmoud told CPJ. “Nothing in his blog post harms national security; the court has no basis to convict him.”