Schoolboy detained after teacher discovers ruler and notebooks with Rabaa sign, a symbol of opposition to Morsi’s overthrow
Scissors and compasses are traditionally considered the most dangerous items in a student’s pencil case. But for one Egyptian schoolboy it is a ruler that has allegedly led to his detention for 16 days in an adult jail without trial.
Khaled Bakara, 15, was arrested last month after his teacher spotted a ruler on his desk bearing a symbol indicating his opposition to the overthrow of Egypt’s former president Mohamed Morsi, alleged Khaled’s lawyer, Amr Abdel Maqsoud.
“There was no previous confrontation with the teacher,” Maqsoud said. “The teacher was walking around the classroom and saw the ruler on his desk. Then he took Khaled’s bag, started searching it, and found two notebooks with the sign on them too. He took the three things and went to the school director, who called the police.”
According to Maqsoud, police arrested Khaled on suspicion of incitement to violence, slandering Egypt’s army, and belonging to a banned group. He was originally detained for 15 days in an adult facility, pending investigations, and on Sunday his detention was renewed for a similar period. Egyptian legislation sets criminal penalties for officials who detain children with adult prisoners.
Egypt’s interior ministry said it could not provide details of Khaled’s case at the time of writing. The foreign ministry – which acts as a conduit for queries left unanswered by other state institutions – would not comment on the details of the case but said Egypt’s judicial system followed “due process” and had “full independence”.
Known as the Rabaa sign, the symbol on Khaled’s ruler consists of a four-fingered salute on a yellow background. Named after the Rabaa al-Adawiya protest camp – where hundreds of Morsi supporters were killed by state forces in August – it has become a calling card for mainly Islamist opponents of Morsi’s overthrow. The government and its supporters have attempted to stamp out its usage in case its proliferation disproves the claim that most Egyptians support Morsi’s overthrow.
One of Egypt’s leading footballers was banned and put up for sale by his club for flashing the sign during the final of the African champions league. The country’s kung fu champion was suspended for a similar gesture at a medals ceremony in Moscow. Twenty-one women and girls were sentenced to lengthy jail terms after being arrested carrying balloons bearing the symbol, though their sentences were suspended at the weekend.
According to his lawyer, Khaled is one of 262 citizens – and eight minors – from Kafr el-Sheikh, a northern province, currently jailed pending trial on protest-related charges. Maqsoud said the arrest was one of many intended to intimidate Morsi supporters into submission.
“It’s a political case,” said Maqsoud. “They’re trying to pressure [Khaled’s] town – Baltim – because they have almost daily marches against the coup.”
Nationally, thousands of other protesters arrested during a crackdown on dissent since July may remain in jail – many of them uncharged. In September Amnesty International said 2,400 were still in detention – a figure that may have risen following subsequent rounds of arrests, despite the release of 155 protesters last week. Legally, detainees can remain in custody pending charges for up to two years in Egypt.
On Monday, the Guardian asked Egypt’s justice minister, Adel Abdel Hamid, to comment on the detention without trial of protesters such as Khaled since July. Speaking at an anti-corruption conference co-organised by Transparency International, the minister replied that it was not an appropriate question to ask at the event, and refused to comment further.
The crackdown has extended even to high-profile non-Islamist activists who called for Morsi’s removal in June. On Monday 25 secular activists – including two famous for their role in Hosni Mubarak’s 2011 overthrow, Ahmed Maher and Alaa Abdel Fatah – were sent for trial in a criminal court for organising protests rendered illegal by new legislation.