Sunday, January 22, 2012

Maikel Nabil’s Release - Not a Great Day for Freedom

Yesterday in a publicity stunt to appease the masses ready to revolt once again, the SCAF issued pardons to 1959 military prisoners including the first prisoner of conscience Maikel Nabil. Military sources as well as Maikel Nabil’s lawyer Amir Salem confirmed that the prisoners would be released the following day.

At the coffee shop next to Tora Prison. Photo by: Mark Nabil
Mark Nabil(@mark_nabil), Maikel Nabil’s brother tweeted that we would meet at 8 am opposite Tora El Balad metro station to greet Maikel when released. We arrived a little past 8.30. Mark and his father had not yet arrived. The weather was gloomy and cold, and the sky was scorched with gray, but the excitement over a possible release of Maikel Nabil was worth it. I was glad to see Max Strasser (@maxstrasser) who shared my excitement. We moved towards the prison a little after Mark arrived.  There were a little over 10 of us.

Mark went to the prison gate in order to ask about Maikel’s status and he was informed by the officer at the gate that the decree (the paper to release Maikel by the military judiciary) had not yet arrived. The sky could not make up its mind whether it would rain or not. It drizzled ever so slightly every once in a while. Mark suggested we wait at a coffee shop till the papers came through. We sat at a coffee shop our number had risen to around 18 people or so. Meanwhile he and his father made calls to Maikel’s lawyer, Amir Salem, in order to determine what was holding things up. Salem said he would have them fax the decree over to the prison. We didn’t know if that was a success.

Mark going back and forth informed us of the news. He said an officer told him that Maikel will not be released today. Mark’s father said we could wait outside and possibly start a sit-in, but it didn’t seem realistic with the small numbers. We got up and what looked like a high ranking officer said ‘Mabrook’ from inside his car. We responded that Maikel wasn’t going to be released today according to another officer, and he said that they were actually just waiting for the fax.

There was a lot of confusion as to what was really happening, with various calls to Maikel’s lawyer and uncertainty about whether Maikel would be released. Then came another piece of news; that Maikel and others would probably be released on 26 January, possibly for concerns over them joining the 25 January protests.

We stood outside the prison door, the one we had stood outside before when organizing a protest for the release of blogger and activist Alaa Abdel Fattah (@alaa). We didn’t know if they were giving us this information because it was true or if they just wanted us dispersed.

The residents gathered round and some began discourse over what we were doing. We had to explain that this wasn’t a protests, we were not chanting and we were just waiting for our friend Maikel. They asked us not to do anything that would bring them harm.

One of them was a driver of a toktok with a degree in commerce. He said he understands SCAF’s games with the petrol, the gas and all the austerity measures to force us to succumb, but he also said he was barely struggling and he was humiliated driving a toktok. He told us that not everyone in the neighborhood would be as understanding as he is. He asked us to move to a side. It seems like we’ve become accustomed to stand in protest in the middle of the road rather than safely at the side. We complied so that we don’t bother the residents although it seemed pointless in such a road. More resident drama happened as they asked as to our purpose, unable to criticize us for waiting for someone who has already been pardoned. I would like to point out that there were foreigners at that time that weren’t given any trouble by the local residents. The residents were half rebuking, half inquiring.

We waited around, trying to find out from lawyers what the reality of the situation was, whether Maikel would be released today or not. Then came a change when some of the other ‘residents’ arrived. There were a few of them who looked like they were looking for trouble. One of them just shouted harassingly at women but was called by the officer at the gate and told not to use this style of harassment. Then after a while there came that same guy who stirred up trouble when we were protesting when Alaa was in custody. He was a man of reddish-white complexion, white hair, average build and spoke very roughly never waiting for a response. He praised the army and viciously asked us to leave as he headed away. Last time this happened, he came back with more of his buddies and started scuffles for no reason.

We decided to go back to the coffee shop and avoid confrontation. Some people decided to leave at that point. I wanted to stay but for I had leave for compelling reasons.

As I boarded the metro, I read Mark’s tweet, that they were confronted by people carrying sticks and knives. I later found out through Marina (@violin_queen) who was with us at the protest that they were threatened with murder if they ever came back to the neighborhood. She also tweeted that a photographer Michael Adel was taken inside Tora prison, beaten and threatened he would be killed. The citizens armed with knives and glass bottles then boarded a CSF truck that went inside Tora prison after their attack.

Related news:  Prisoners ‘pardoned’ by Tantawi remain in prison

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