‘I’m being arrested,’ blogger posts as Egypt’s repression intensifies
Prominent Egyptian blogger and journalist Wael Abbas, known for standing up against police violence, was arrested and taken to an unknown location, his lawyer said Wednesday. His whereabouts are still not known.
The message, posted in Arabic, on Abbas’s Facebook page in the early hours of Wednesday was stark: “I’m being arrested,” he wrote before disappearing.
Family and neighbours of one of the Arab world’s best-known bloggers said a big group of heavily armed policemen were seen outside Abbas’s apartment in a Cairo suburb. The outspoken critic of police brutality in Egypt was blindfolded before being taken away, according to Egypt's Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI).
Abbas's lawyer, Gamal Eid, has since confirmed his detention although the detainee’s whereabouts are not known.
"I am in touch with his family," Eid told AFP. "And what has happened is a kidnapping, not an arrest."
>>> Click here for Wael Abbas's blog (in Arabic)
Considered a pioneer in the blogosphere in the Arab world, Abbas began publishing scathing critiques of the rampant corruption, police brutality and use of torture in Egypt well before the 2011 uprisings that ousted dictators in Africa’s northern rim.
He shot to international fame though during the January 2011 Tahrir Square demonstrations against Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak and has been a source of inspiration for a generation of fellow Arab activists who took to social media, calling for change. A winner of numerous human rights and journalism awards, Abbas has posted several videos of police brutality, some of which have been used in the courts to secure convictions against police officers.
Twitter suspension, cyber harassment
Over the course of more than a dozen years in the spotlight though, Abbas has said he has faced frequent cyber attacks by Egyptian security services.
In November 2007, Wael’s YouTube account was suspended for months before it was restored.
He has not fared as well with Twitter and Facebook though. Last year, Twitter faced criticism for suspending Abbas’s account. His Twitter account remains suspended.
Meanwhile a day after Abbas posted a Facebook message about his arrest, his Facebook account was not available Thursday.
'Continuation of repression'
International human rights groups have slammed his arrest, calling it yet another case of Egypt’s increasing crackdown on freedom of speech and expression.
“The arrest of blogger #WaelAbbas is a continuation of Egyptian authorities' repression of free speech. Under President @AlsisiOfficial rule, journalists have become at constant risk of arrest merely for doing their work,” said a Twitter message posted by Amnesty International’s North Africa division.
The arrest of blogger #WaelAbbas is a continuation of Egyptian authorities' repression of free speech. Under President @AlsisiOfficial rule, journalists have become at constant risk of arrest merely for doing their work. Tell @AlsisiOfficial that #JournalismIsNotACrime pic.twitter.com/y83rZnEtcvAmnesty North Africa (@AINorthAfrica) May 23, 2018
Christophe Deloire, head of Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF), said the Egyptian authorities must "guarantee his physical and psychological integrity (...) and quickly provide information on his current situation".
Jails full of activists, journalists, opposition supporters
Rights groups accuse the government of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of a sweeping crackdown on dissent which they say is the worst ever for Egypt.
Since 2013, when Sisi took power, thousands of Islamist opponents, as well as scores of liberal activists and journalists have been imprisoned by the authorities.
Sisi, who ousted President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood after mass protests against his rule, denies that there are political prisoners in Egypt.
Last week, Egypt's state security prosecutor ordered Haitham Mohamedeen, a leftist lawyer, and Shady Ghazaly Harb, a leading opposition figure during the 2011 uprising, to be detained for 15 days and investigated for a terrorist organization.
On Tuesday a court sentenced journalist and researcher Ismail al-Iskandarani to 10 years in prison on charges of publishing false news and military secrets for his work on an ongoing army campaign against militants in the Sinai Peninsula, his lawyer said.
In an unprecedented move, authorities arrested a former military chief in January before he could challenge Sisi in a March presidential election.
"Egyptian authorities continue their security campaign to silence all critical voices and fabricate cases against them in order to avenge and to silence them," the ANHRI statement said.
According to RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index, Egypt is ranked 161st out of 180 countries.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)