Prosecutors have ordered Egyptian activist Amal Fathy to remain in detention for 15 days on charges of “inciting against the state, using social media to spread fake news and defaming Egypt.”
On 11 May the 33 year-old pro-democracy online activist was arrested alongside her husband Mohamed Lotfy, founder and executive director of the 2018 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Award- winning Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, an Egyptian rights watchdog, in a pre-dawn raid on the couple’s home.
The arrests came two days after Fathy, a third-year Mass Communication student at Cairo University and a former actress and model, posted a video lambasting the government for its failure to end sexual harassment, which remains widespread despite a 2014 law that criminalises the behaviour. In the 11-minute clip posted on her Facebook page, Fathy also criticised Egyptian authorities for “the deteriorating socio-economic conditions and public services in the country”.
While her husband was released after three hours, Fathy was ordered held and remains in custody pending investigations by State Security Prosecutors in case no. 261 of 2018 in which several other young pro-reform activists face a host of accusations including “joining an outlawed group to disrupt state institutions, spread fake news and undermine trust in the Egyptian state.”
The crackdown continues to gather pace. This morning, 23 May 2018, human rights activist and blogger Wael Abbas was arrested at dawn from his home in Cairo, according to a post he made on Facebook.
— Summer Said (@summer_said) May 23, 2018
Shadi Ghazali Harb, a prominent leader of the 2011 uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak, is another government critic that has been arrested in the case. He was summoned by prosecutors on 15 May for investigation on charges of insulting president Abdel Fattah El Sisi and spreading false news in relation to tweets he had posted criticising the government over recent increases in metro fares.
“At a time when people don’t know how they’ll cope with the next wave of price hikes that started with the metro fares, Sisi is inspecting the new administrative capital and is racing against time to build a wall to isolate himself and his cronies from the people. Can he actually finish it before the next eruption of mass protests?” Harb tweeted on 11 May.
Days earlier, comedian Shady Abu Zaid, who produces an online satirical show called The Rich Content, was arrested at his home and was forcibly disappeared for 24 hours before resurfacing at State Security Headquarters. Abu Zaid has a large following on social media networks since posting a prank-video two years ago that showed him distributing condom-balloons among security forces in Tahrir Square on the anniversary of the January 25 uprising. He too faces charges of joining an outlawed group and disseminating fake news, according to his lawyer Azza Soliman. Analysts say the incarceration of the young activists “signals a new wave of repression targeting Egypt’s youth revolutionaries with the aim of intimidating and silencing dissenters.”
Fathy’s video drew mixed reactions in Egypt meanwhile, with security sources and pro-government media accusing her of “insulting Egypt” and “inciting against the state”. State-run media outlets which have slipped back into their old habit of serving as government propaganda mouthpieces, identified her as a member of the April 6 Movement, the youth group that mobilised protesters ahead of the 2011 uprising that toppled Mubarak. The group has been persistently vilified by the pro-government media with several TV talk show hosts branding its members as “traitors” and “foreign agents” after the movement was outlawed by court order in April 2014.
Egyptian and international rights groups however, have denounced Fathy’s detention with Amnesty International calling the move “a new low in Egypt’s crackdown on freedom of expression.” Nine Egyptian rights groups have signed an online petition published by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies on 14 May, describing Fathy’s detention as “state retribution for exercising her right to free speech” and calling for the activist’s immediate release.
The Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms which signed the petition, said it was the actual target of Fathy’s arrest as the organisation has “continuously suffered persecution at the hands of Egyptian security agencies,” and its management has “frequently been the target of state harassment,” ECRF said in a statement published on its Facebook page on 12 May, a day after Fathy’s arrest.
The ECRF’s Giza office was raided by security officers in plainclothes in October 2016 ; the men searched the office without presenting a search warrant and threatened to close it down. Lotfy, who previously worked as a researcher for Amnesty International before founding the ECRF, was banned from travelling in June 2015 and had his passport confiscated. The rights watchdog works on documenting cases that are particularly touchy for the government such as enforced disappearances and torture in prisons.