"Mohamed Oxygen" begins fifth year in prison in Egypt for refusing to stop blogging
In prison since 21 September 2019, the famous Egyptian blogger Mohamed Ibrahim Radwan, better known as Mohamed “Oxygen”, has spent the past four years behind bars for the crime of wanting to report the news. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for his immediate and unconditional release.
The founder of the blog Oxygen Misr (meaning "Egypt's Oxygen"), Mohamed Ibrahim Radwan has been in solitary confinement in Cairo's Badr prison for the past three months as a punishment for trying to protect a cellmate who was being attacked by a guard, according to an acquaintance. "Mohamed Oxygen cannot tolerate injustice," the relative told RSF on condition of anonymity. "He will shine a light on injustice regardless of whether it takes place on the street or in prison."
Arrested for the first time on 6 April 2018, after reporting anomalies in the presidential elections, Mohamed Oxygen was released on 31 July 2019 on condition that he went to a police station twice a week for two hours to answer questions and report on its activities, and that he refrained from blogging.
His release was not only conditional but also short-lived. When he went to the police station on 21 September 2019, he did not come out. He was detained for posting videos about a series of protests. It was during this same wave of protests that a fellow blogger, Alaa Abdel Fattah, was imprisoned for the third time eight days later, on 29 September 2019.
Charged with "endangering state security" and "spreading fake news," Mohamed Oxygen was finally sentenced to four years in prison on 21 December 2021. The sentence went into effect in January 2022, meaning he is not due to be released until January 2026.
“It’s as poetic as it is true: Egypt’s Oxygen is being confined to Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s prisons. With media professionals such as Mohamed Ibrahim Radwan behind bars, Egypt's press landscape is suffocating and the country is sinking deeper into a never-ending crackdown. Mohamed Oxygen's courageous work cost him his freedom, and now it is high time he was returned to us. He must not spend another day in prison.
"Torture and arbitrary measures drove him to extreme despair"
Shortly after his second arrest in 2019, Mohamed Oxygen's mental health deteriorated. He was transferred to Tora maximum security prison on the outskirts of Cairo, where he remained for more than a year. On 3 November 2020, his name was on a list of detainees scheduled for release. But his hopes were dashed by a last-minute decision by the attorney general that resulted in his detention being extended on new charges – a common phenomenon in Egypt known as "rotation." The disappointment dealt Mohamed Oxygen such a blow that he refused to defend himself when he appeared before a prosecutor. Throughout this two-year ordeal, he was cut off from the world by a ban on receiving visitors.
In July 2021, he attempted suicide. In a statement, the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), whose lawyers represented Mohamed Oxygen, said that “torture and arbitrary measures had driven him to extreme despair.” When his mother died in February 2022, Mohamed Oxygen refused a brief furlough to attend her funeral.
He was transferred to Cairo's Badr prison nine months after his conviction in December 2021. Conditions were better for him in the new prison and contributed to an improvement in his state of health. In December 2022, more than three years after his arrest, the Egyptian authorities finally allowed him to receive visitors.
“Despite his plight, Mohamed has always refused to be treated like a criminal in prison, insisting that he is a blogger,” the same source told RSF. “He often refuses to comply with strip searches and does not accept humiliation and insults. He answers back even when they come from a guard.”
On YouTube, Facebook and its website, the Oxygen Misr blog had been reporting what Egyptian people think since 2008, since well before the 2011 revolution. Its declared mission, "to prove the concrete facts," preceded every headline and every video, and despite its criticism of authorities, the blog remained true to the principle that more than one viewpoint should be reflected. Mohamed Oxygen often reported the opinions of people on the streets, demonstrators and the public. He documented enforced disappearances, corruption and prison abuses.
Press freedom continues to be heavily restricted in Egypt, despite measures taken since 2022 that, according to President Sisi, aim to improve the human rights situation. They have included the launch of a national dialogue with opposition figures and amnesties for detained political prisoners.
Karim Asaad, a journalist with the fact-checking platform Matsa Daash, was arrested on 19 August and was held for two days after posting an article about an Egyptian plane detained in Zambia. Three days later, the father of self-exiled journalist Ahmad Gamal Ziada was detained and questioned about his son's activities in Belgium. Three women journalists with the independent news website Mada Masr have meanwhile been on trial since March 2023 for publishing an article criticizing members of a pro-government party.