After journalists, Egypt arrests bloggers
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the Egyptian authorities not to confuse disrespect with terrorism after they arrested three bloggers with a reputation for irreverence in the past month.
The latest victim is Shadi Abu Zeid, who has made popular satirical videos viewed by thousands on social networks, including a famous joke at the expense of the Egyptian police in January 2016, and was part of the team of Abla Fahita, a successful TV comedy show recently suspended by the authorities for being too daring.
Two days after state security officials arrested Zeid at his home on 6 May, his worried family learned yesterday that he has been placed in provisional detention for at least 15 days on suspicion of “publishing lies” and “membership of a banned group.”
The second of these charges is particularly astonishing as Zeid has little in common with the suspected supporters of the banned Muslim Brotherhood to whom the charge is usually applied.
Sherif Gaber, who recently started a blog after expressing his views for years on social networks, was arrested at Cairo airport at he was about to take an international flight on 2 May and has been charged with advocating atheism, the charge on which he was previously detained in 2013. Egyptian law penalizes insulting or disrespecting any of the three monotheistic religions.
Mohamed Radwan Mohamed, a blogger better known as “Mohamed Oxygen,” has meanwhile been held ever since his arrest a month ago, on 6 April. His sidewalk interviews with members of the public and his interviews with well-known figures, addressing political and social issues in a relaxed style, have won him hundreds of thousands of followers on Facebook and YouTube.
Paying tribute to him on the Deutsche Welle website, the Egyptian novelist Alaa al Aswany wrote: “He knew he could never get a satisfying job in the traditional newspapers or TV channels but, instead of despairing, he decided to become an independent journalist and blogger.”
“Blogs, interviews with people in the street, humour and irreverence are not terrorist acts, so how can the Egyptian authorities explain the arrests of these bloggers unless they were driven by a desire to control not only news and information but also opinions?” RSF said.
By reining in the traditional media and blocking access to independent online media, the Egyptian authorities have reduced the country to almost complete silence. Social networks have not as yet been blocked but the authorities are currently using other means in an attempt to control social network content.
If they are not arrested – like Alaa Abdel Fattah, a blogger who has been serving a five-year jail term since 2015 – journalists and social network users are subjected to harassment and intimidation. Some are defamed, which makes them fear arrest. Others, such as Wael Abbas, are the targets of online attacks by troll armies, who managed to get his account suspended.
At least 35 journalists, citizen-journalists and bloggers are currently detained in Egypt, which is ranked 161st out of 180 countries in RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index. Most of the detainees are being held pending trial.