January 3, 2012 - Updated on January 20, 2016

Letter from Reporters Without Borders to the U.N. special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers about Maikel Nabil Sanad's trial

Reporters Without Borders wrote yesterday to Gabriela Knaul, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, urging her to quickly intercede on behalf of Maikel Nabil Sanad, an Egyptian blogger who has been detained since 28 March 2011. The letter drew attention to the many irregularities in the military trials that led to his being sentenced to two years in prison on 14 December.

Like the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), Reporters Without Borders is urging the Special Rapporteur to condemn the lack of due process and to go to Egypt to call on the authorities to end the use of military tribunals to try civilians.

This is what the letter said:

Dear Special Rapporteur Knaul,

Reporters Without Borders, an international press freedom organization, and the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), would like to share with you its deep concern about the military trials to which the Egyptian blogger Maikel Nabil Sanad has been subjected.

Aged 26, Mr. Sanad used to write articles about politics and post them on his website ( Some of them criticized the role of the armed forces during the Egyptian revolution in January 2011 and their close relationship with the Mubarak government.

He was arrested at his home on 28 March and has remained in custody ever since. He was eventually charged with publicly insulting the army in his blog and on his Facebook page (under article 184 of the Egyptian penal code) and with intentionally spreading false news and false information about the armed forces with the aim of damaging national security and the public interest and sowing terror among Egypt’s citizens (under article 102 of the Egyptian penal code).

At his first trial, Mr. Sanad was sentenced to three years in jail on 10 April, at the end of a hearing which his lawyers were prevented from attending. The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) denounced this trial as unfair in a statement (see Opinion No.50/2011 attached to this letter) and asked the authorities to release Mr. Sanad.

This initial sentence was subsequently quashed and a second military trial opened in October. It was again conducted in an extremely unfair manner and ended with Mr. Sanad being sentenced to two years in jail on 14 December.

Because of the judicial persecution he has suffered and the many legal irregularities during his trials, the defendant was on a hunger strike for more than 130 days and is now refusing to appeal against the second sentence.

Reporters Without Borders has been working on Mr. Sanad’s case ever since his arrest, which we condemned in a press release on 31 March. Thereafter we have issued frequent updates on his case which are attached to this letter.

Reporters Without Borders is in contact with Mr. Sanad’s brother, Mark Nabil, who has been harassed and threatened with imprisonment for supporting Mr. Sanad.

As well as issuing press releases to raise awareness about Mr. Sanad’s case, Reporters Without Borders wrote to Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi Soliman, head of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) in June, requesting his release. This letter has remained unanswered. We also wrote to international institutions on 7 November to denounce the use of military courts to persecute bloggers and journalists. These letters are attached.

The United Nations, the European Parliament, the US Department of State and several human rights organizations have expressed similar concerns.

Reporters Without Borders now requests your urgent assistance on this case.

Mr. Sanad has been subjected to unfair trials in violation of the basic principles of the independence of the judiciary, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Egypt has signed and ratified.

The Sanad case is emblematic of the gravity of the current situation in Egypt as regards free speech and respect for international legal principles. Since President Hosni Mubarak’s removal and replacement by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, nearly 12,000 civilians have been brought before military courts in violation of the international treaties that the Supreme Council undertook to respect on 12 February.

The trials of civilians by military courts give rise to many human rights violations. There are absolutely no grounds for these special courts, which only consider the prosecution case, refuse to let defence witnesses testify and (as in the Sanad trial) do not allow defendants to prepare their case in advance with their lawyers. Like Mr. Sanad, many Egyptians dispute the legitimacy of these military courts. The WGAD held that the use of military tribunals in cases of free speech is in breach of international human rights obligations.

The military judges who preside these courts offer no guarantee of independence and impartiality. The armed forces act as both judge and plaintiff in these trials, violating the basic principles of judicial independence as well as article 14 of the ICCPR.

The military courts do not guarantee the defendant’s right to free expression and therefore his right to a fair defence. The defendant must prove its innocence, in violation of the principle of the presumption of innocence enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The trial of Mr. Sanad, a civilian, by a special military court under special procedures is a blatant violation of paragraph 5 of the Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary.
Only one judge was present at Mr. Sanad’s second trial and, for no valid reason, he did not specify the exact charges. Mr. Sanad’s lawyers were appointed by the court and he was unable to prepare his defence with them, in violation of his rights (paragraph 6 of the basic principles on the independence of the judiciary). Furthermore, his lawyers did not defend him as they are required and did not dispute all the charges against him.

The hearings were held behind closed doors and were very brief, lasting between five and 15 minutes. Aside from his brothers, Mr. Sanad’s relatives were not allowed to attend. No journalist, independent observer or state representative was allowed to attend the hearings either.

The repeated postponement of the hearings and the refusal to release Mr. Sanad on bail were used to prolong his detention and to pressure him to issue an apology to the armed forces. On 3 December, the judge informally urged Mr. Sanad to apologize so that the case would come to an end. He refused, and was sentenced to two years in prison and a fine 11 days later.

He now refuses to appeal against this sentence because he contests the military court’s legitimacy. Mr. Sanad ended a 4-month hunger strike on 31 December, and was transferred to Tora Prison Hospital. He had been consuming only juice and milk since 23 August and had started refusing these as well on 18 December, in protest against his unfair trial. From 16 December to 31 December, Mr. Sanad was in a solitary confinement cell with no bed.

We are confident of your support for judicial independence and the right to due process for those imprisoned for using their right to freedom of expression. We therefore urge you to intervene on behalf of Mr. Sanad, possibly by making a visit to Egypt, and to condemn the use of military trials in matters of freedom of speech.

We thank you in advance for the attention you give to this matter,


Jean-François Julliard
Reporters Without Borders secretary-general

Gamal Eid,
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information

Attached documents:

- Press releases issued by Reporters Without Borders about Mr. Sanad since March 2011
- Mr. Sanad’s report on the violations of human rights perpetrated by the army, « The army and the people wasn’t ever one hand », published on his blog on 8 March 2011
- Letter on 1 September 2011 to Mohamed Hussein Tantawi Soliman, head of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF)
- Letter on 7 November 2011 to international institutions
- Opinion No. 50/2011 (EGYPT) issued by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on 1 September 2011