CAIRO (Reuters) - Two Egyptian activists will appear before military prosecutors on Sunday accused of inciting violence, a move rights groups say is part of a crackdown by the ruling army on dissent.
Blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah and Bahaa Saber, another activist, will be questioned by military authorities over “inciting violence and sabotage” in connection with deadly clashes between the army and protesters in Cairo on October 9, the activists, family members and a rights group said.
Some 25 people were killed in the 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 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.
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 groups and others said.
Abd El Fattah, a well-known Egyptian 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.
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,” London-based 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