Although I have received calls from different correspondents I, knowing nothing about him, have no good reason to call for “freeing Philip Rizk now“. He has been arrested by the Egyptian authorities, ostensibly for organising a protest on behalf of Gaza – but we don’t know because the Egyptian authorities have gone quiet on his friends and family.
The Egyptian authorities have not made charges, so we can’t say whether he was arrested for a legitimate reason. People the world over should be free to demonstrate in non-inciteful ways without being arrested for it. And if they are arrested for a crime that their defenders would like us to overlook, they should not be tortured, their families should be told of their whereabouts, they should receive a fair trial according to due, transparent process, with a good defence.
I understand though that sometimes – where there is fear of torture – it is imperative to cause as much fuss and noise as possible in order to give the authorities to understand that they are under scrutiny. So although I happen to find his politics obnoxious and kitsch, that’s no reason to ignore that he has been seized. But noting that he has been seized and detained in ominous secrecy without charge is where I draw the line, for now. There’s no way I’m making a cause of somebody I know nothing about – this kind of thing happens to people all over the world, all the time. It is normal and terrible. It is why organisations like Amnesty and Human Rights Watch exist.
Support for individuals under arrest in despotic regimes shouldn’t be merely viral – it should be rational and based on broader principles. Else why should it deserve to be taken seriously? What would be helpful would be if at least somebody among the many campaigning on Philip Rizk’s behalf could outline Egyptian law with regards to habeas corpus, as well as the right to demonstrate. The supporters of the Saudi hunger strikers did a good job in this respect. This would broaden the options for his defenders – we could support calls for him to be charged or released in the first instance, and then if he were charged only with organising a demonstration we could support calls for his immediate release. If he were charged with a crime under Egyptian law, we could consider (insofar as we had the knowledge to do so) the merits of that law and call for his rights as a detainee on remand – not to be tortured, to be able to communicate and receive visits from his friends and family, to be given a fair trial.
Update: In the comments below Philip Rizk’s friend gives a precis of the relevant parts of the Egyptian Constitution, a translation of which can be found at the Electoral Knowledge Network. It looks as if article 71 – the right to communicate – has been breached – more than that it is difficult to say, but that in itself is ominous.
Update 2: Philip Rizk is free – see New York Times. My thanks to Jo Kordz in the comments for giving me and my – here, many! -readers a referenced backgrounder. I still feel I know little. See also BBC Radio 4 File on 4 about Egypt’s role in Gaza, on mp3. Philip Rizk is interviewed. It covers the tunnels, the state of emergency, Egypt’s role as negotiator, the Muslim Brotherhood, and investigates the allegations that Egypt tacitly approved Israel’s action in Gaza. See also his friend’s account of the arrest. Other bloggers languish in Egyptian jails. What is a country without free expression? And (less rhetorically) what needs to be in place to emerge from this state of emergency? On Gaza – it is good to campaign for Gazans – god knows their existence is limited and perilous – but any campaign which passes over the political failure Hamas has been for Gaza, and the agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood, is a flawed campaign and one I find personally threatening. But there are some things which are as or more important than that – rights of individuals under arrest is one.