Let them burn us all--if they can

May 8, 2012

An appeals court in Egypt is due to issue a judgment this week on the fate of eight socialists and activists facing time in prison for the "crime" of organizing in solidarity with the victims of a deadly terror attack against a Coptic church in the early morning hours of January 1, 2011.

The eight activists expected the case against them, fabricated by elements of the regime of Hosni Mubarak, would be dismissed in the wake of the mass rebellion that toppled Mubarak and shook Egypt one month after the church bombing. But Egypt's military rulers, who have run the country since the fall of Mubarak, got a judge to sentence the activists to two years in prison.

In this article, one of the eight, Mohamed Atef, describes what happened to the eight and the consequences they face now. This article was translated and first appeared at the at Coptic Solidarity website.

THE COURT of appeals is expected to issue a verdict in the case of eight young revolutionaries charged with rioting and assaulting police personnel.

The young revolutionaries may be sentenced to up to two years in prison on charges contrived by former Minister of Interior Habib El-Adly's security apparatus to punish the eight for standing in solidarity with Copts against the perpetrators of the bombing of the Church of the Two Saints.

When the Egyptian revolution erupted, the whole proceedings against the eight were presumed null and void, and everybody expected the charges would be dismissed, particularly after the young men were honored by the Egyptian National Television, several political parties and Egypt's churches.

However, on March 29, the court issued a verdict condemning the young revolutionaries to jail. Apparently, the judge did not believe they represented the revolution--and in fact thought they must be punished as a warning to those who want to tarnish the face of Egypt's great revolution!

Demonstrators gather for a vigil following the burning of a Coptic church in Cairo
Demonstrators gather for a vigil following the burning of a Coptic church in Cairo (Sarah Carr)

IT ALL started on New Year's Eve night in 2011, when Egypt mourned the killing of 26 Egyptians whose only crime was attending midnight Mass to pray to the God of all people for peace and goodwill. The explosion took place outside the church packed with hopeful worshippers praying for a good year for all people.

Immediately after the massacre, many Cairenes rushed to the mostly Coptic Shubra district to offer condolences and declare Egyptians' unequivocal condemnation of attacks against worshippers, regardless of religion. For the next couple of days, Egypt's Muslims and Christians took to the streets to protest in condemnation of the massacre and to demand justice.

A number of youth movements organized a protest outside Massara Church in Shubra, to show their support and their solidarity with the anguish of the nation. Egyptians stood as one people to protest, forming a human shield to defend freedom of belief and combat sectarian and religious discrimination.

As usual, the former Minister of Interior's security apparatus, whose sole mission was to ensure the safety of the regime, surrounded the approximately 150 protesters with hundreds of soldiers from Central Security Forces, Special Operations and state security officers and informants.

The security forces then resorted to violence, starting to attack the demonstrations that spread all over the old district, including the protest in front of Massara Church. Protesters shouted slogans such as: "The essence of citizenship is to treat Fatma and Mary as equals," and "State security forces are brandishing their weapons now, where were they when the church was bombed?"

The security forces used batons and sticks indiscriminately against all demonstrators, including women, children and the elderly. The eight young men who are charged strived to defend and shield with their own bodies the elderly and women from the heavy-handed police assault.

Before the protest ended, El-Adly's police reverted to their favorite scheme: instigating sectarian conflict. They claimed that some Muslims had infiltrated Copts' protests to manipulate the situation. Christians instantaneously defended their Muslim brothers. They showed tremendous valor in preventing the police from apprehending Muslim fellow protesters and kept shouting, "We will not walk away...not without our Muslim brothers."

The police managed to convince a clergyman to intervene to persuade Christian youths to forsake their Muslim friends on allegations that they were manipulating Copts' pain and anger for political gain. However, all attempts to drive a wedge between Muslim and Christian protesters failed, as heroes such as the martyr Mina Daniel struggled bravely to defend their friends.

Mina Daniel paid a dear price for defending his friends Mustafa Mohie Al-Din, Mohamed Atef, Mostafa Shawky and Mohamed Nagy. The brave Copt was ferociously beaten. When his clothes were torn off, his attackers saw a tattoo of Jesus Christ on his arm, so they asked him, "You are a Christian, and you defend them?" Mena bravely replied, "They are my Muslim friends, and they are much more honorable than you."

Despite all efforts, the four activists were apprehended and escorted to the Road El-Farag police precinct. Shortly afterward, four other activists, Tamer el-Sady, Ahmed Refaat, Diaa Ahmed and Amr Mohamed, were also apprehended from the midst of different demonstrations in Shoubra. They were led to the same police precinct, where they shared, along with the first four young men, an extremely tight cell in which the eight hardly had enough space to sit on the floor. The eight young men were subjected to torture from early in the morning, under the very nose of the prosecutor questioning them.

The activists' attorneys were not allowed to visit their clients to check on their conditions or give them food and water. Thus, the eight young men spent 14 hours in a terribly tiny and filthy cell, where they suffered from cold and hunger.

The eight young men were interrogated separately. At the beginning, the prosecutor tried to strike a deal with some of them. He wanted to convince them to waive their right to have their attorney attend the interrogation in return for his help. The activists stuck to their right and demanded their attorneys attend the interrogation. So the prosecutor threatened that he would get them all sentenced to jail.

In an illegal and farcical lineup, police personnel claimed to recognize the young activists. The prosecutor concluded the collusion aimed at incriminating the eight activists by ordering their swift trial before an emergency court of law.

However, the picture wasn't completely gloomy. In stark contradiction to the sadistic officers, obtuse corporals and corrupt prosecutors, the case was assigned to a conscientious judge, who ordered the immediate release of all the activists pending further investigations into the case.

The eight activists were advised by friends not to participate in any activities until they were finally exonerated of all charges. However, the January 25 revolution was imminent, and Egypt's youth were not only prepared to go to jail but also to pay with their lives for their freedom.

The lawsuit against the eight activists was relegated to the past in most people's minds, and the eight were honored by several bodies, parties and authorities for their brave struggle against the ousted regime before the revolution.

Then, suddenly, the lawsuit against the eight activists resurfaced. A different judge was assigned to the case, and after only two sessions, he sentenced each one to two years in prison and a fine of 200 Egyptian dollars.

The counter-revolution, which is engrained in all state institutions, is currently staging a smear campaign to exact revenge against all revolutionaries. Despite their wicked efforts, however, the revolution will continue to inspire hope for freedom, justice and dignity for the vulnerable, oppressed and persecuted groups, including laborers, farmers, Bedouins, Nubians and Copts.

No one will ever be able to kill or imprison hope. Hence, the supporters of the ousted regime should either succumb to hope--or, if they can, let them burn us all.

Translated and first published at Coptic Solidarity.

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