CAIRO — An Egyptian military court on Monday jailed a blogger for three years for criticising the armed forces, the country's rulers since president Hosni Mubarak's ouster in February, his lawyer told AFP.
"Regrettably, the Nasr City military court sentenced Maikel Nabil to three years in prison," Gamal Eid said. "The lawyers were not present, the verdict was handed out almost in secret."
The verdict had initially been set for Wednesday and was postponed to Sunday.
The lawyers went on Sunday but were told to leave because there would be no verdict, Eid said.
"We were then very suprised to hear that he (Maikel Nabil) was sentenced to three years," said Eid, who heads the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI).
The verdict is likely to cause concern to Egypt's large network of bloggers who had hoped the overthrow of Mubarak in a popular uprising would usher in a new era of freedom of expression.
Last week, Human Rights Watch called for the charges to be dropped.
It said Egypt's armed forces "should drop all charges against (Nabil) for his Internet posts critical of the military."
"This trial sets a dangerous precedent at a time when Egypt is trying to transition away from the abuses of the Mubarak era," said HRW's Middle East and North Africa director Sarah Leah Whitson.
This is the first trial of a blogger by a military court since the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces assumed control after Mubarak resigned on February 11 following 18 straight days of anti-regime protests.
Military police arrested Nabil, a campaigner against conscription, on March 28 after he wrote blogs criticising the military, HRW said.
His posts and comments on social networking website Facebook were used as evidence against him in the trial, HRW quoted his lawyers as saying.
Last year, a military court sentenced another blogger to six months in prison for publishing "military secrets" after he posted instructions on Facebook on how to enlist in the armed forces, his lawyers said at the time.
Another blogger was acquitted after he published a post on alleged patronage in a military academy.
The military, which has pledged to hand power to a civilian government once parliamentary and presidential elections are held, has tried and sentenced dozens of people in recent weeks for crimes such as robbery and assault.
The trials are speedy and can result in harsh sentences, rights groups say.