Egypt must halt campaign against bloggers


March 13, 2009

His Excellency Muhammad Hosni Mubarak
President of the Arab Republic of Egypt
C/o Embassy of the Arab Republic of Egypt
3521 International Ct. NW
Washington, D.C. 20008

Via facsimile: 202-244-4319

Dear Mr. President,

 The Committee to Protect Journalists is writing to protest the relentless campaign of persecution against Internet journalists and bloggers by Egypt's various security services. Regrettably, the routine harassment and detention of bloggers, according to CPJ research, is only one element of an overall decline in press freedom in Egypt in recent years. In 2007, CPJ concluded that Egypt was among the 10 worst backsliders in terms of press freedom worldwide, due to a massive number of legal proceedings being launched against critical journalists. Since then, this trend has continued unabated with hundreds of lawsuits, criminal complaints, and summonses being issued against editors, reporters, bloggers, and free expression advocates.

In spite of your February 2004 pledge to liberalize Egypt's press laws and to decriminalize press offenses, Egypt's security services and judiciary have continued to pursue independent journalists and bloggers through legal and extralegal harassment, long periods of administrative detention under the guise of Egypt's 28-year-long Emergency Law, which allows for prolonged detention without charge and searches without warrants, among other heavy-handed measures, and through politically motivated judicial proceedings. Bloggers, who lack the relative institutional protections provided to some--though not all--journalists who work in traditional print and broadcast media, have been targeted with particular ruthlessness.

In recent years, arrests of bloggers have risen sharply. The following bloggers were detained and interrogated for different periods of time. All have been released during the past month, although two of them still face pending charges.

Muhammad Adel, author of Meit (Dead) blog, disappeared on November 20, 2008. The same day, security agents raided his house and confiscated books and CDs, according to Menassat, a press freedom news Web site. Authorities initially denied detaining him, but on November 24, the Ministry of Interior produced an arrest warrant. On December 17, he first appeared in court and was charged with "joining a banned group (the Muslim Brotherhood) that aims to prevent state institutions from performing their duties." On February 22, he went on a four-day hunger strike to protest being held in solitary confinement and that he was banned from receiving reading materials, Rawda Ahmed, a lawyer at the Legal Assistance Unit of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), told CPJ. After spending nearly four months in detention, the state security prosecutor in Cairo ordered Adel's release on March 8 and he was freed two days later, but the charges against him are still pending, according to Ahmed. 

Abdul Aziz al-Mugahed, who writes the El-Mogahed  blog, was arrested on November 3, 2008. He first appeared in court on December 17, 2008, attorney Radwa Ahmed told CPJ. She stated that al-Mugahed said that he was beaten and electrocuted while in the custody of state security in Cairo. He too has been charged with joining a banned group (the Muslim Brotherhood). Al-Mugahed was released on March 1, Ahmed said, but the charges are still pending against him. No court date has been set. 

Philip Rizk, a German-Egyptian citizen who writes a blog called Tabula Gaza in Cairo, was abducted by security forces on February 6 after participating in a peaceful protest in support of Palestinians in Gaza. After a local and international outcry, authorities released him on February 11. "I was held for four days--blindfolded, handcuffed almost at all times," Rizk wrote in an article posted on his blog. He told The New York Times that he was interrogated by security agents who alternatively accused him of spying for Israel and of running arms for Hamas. Security officials raided Rizk's home, confiscated his cell phone, an iPod, a video camera, and some books, according to ANHRI. Rizk's blog was also blocked until March 5. Rizk also wrote that security personnel returned his belongings, but that "they pretended they had caught the 'thief' who had stolen my things, that he was locked away now."

CPJ research also shows that at least three bloggers remain in administrative detention, held without charge under the Emergency Law, or are serving prison sentences. 

  • Dhia' Eddin Gad, who writes a blog called Sawt Ghadheb (Angry Voice), was assaulted and then abducted by security agents in front of his family's apartment in the Nile Delta region on February 6, according to local and international news reports. The New York Times reported that Gad was taken after participating in a peaceful demonstration in support of Palestinians. Gad is being held incommunicado. Lawyers with ANHRI's Legal Assistance Unit believe that he was being held at state security prosecution in the Nasr City area of Cairo but that he was transferred to Qata Prison in the governorate of Giza on February 21. The charges against him have not been made public and nobody has been permitted to visit him. Although Gad was taken on the same day that Rizk was abducted and despite the fact that interrogators asked Rizk about the relation between the two, authorities have released Rizk but Gad remains in custody. 
  • Mosad Suleiman, known as Mosad Abu Fagr, a novelist, social activist for the Bedouin community in Sinai, and blogger who writes about social and political issues on Wedna N`ish (We want to live), was arrested at his home in Ismailiyya on December 26, 2007 following demonstrations in Sinai to protest the razing of homes on Egypt's border with the Gaza Strip, according to local and international human rights reports. During the course of investigations, Abu Fagr faced various charges such as, "inciting riots, possessing a weapon without a license, and driving without a license." Although there have been multiple judicial orders for his release, the latest one on May 16, 2008, the Ministry of Interior has refused to release him, according to the Hisham Mubarak Law Center, which has represented him throughout these proceedings. After the repeated judicial orders calling for his release, the Ministry of the Interior began holding Abu Fagr under the Emergency Law which deprives him of most of his due process rights, the center reported. Abu Fagr, who has been moved from one holding place to another frequently, went on hunger strike at least once in 2008 to protest mistreatment, reported the Hisham Mubarak Law Center. In February, his wife told Al-Badeel newspaper that she is the only one allowed to visit her husband.
  • Abdel Karim Suleiman, widely known as Karim Amer, was arrested in November 2006 for writing critical articles about prominent religious figures and the president of the republic. He was convicted in February 2007 of insulting religion and the president, and is currently serving a four-year jail term for both charges. He is the only Egyptian blogger to ever be convicted for his online writings. Since then Amer has been mistreated in prison. In November 2007 he was severely beaten by another prisoner and a guard, according to his lawyer and to multiple local human rights groups. He was prevented from documenting his injuries in a medical report, local human rights organizations widely reported. In August 2008, he was prevented from leaving his cell and exercising in a courtyard like other prisoners. Around the same time, some of Amer's books and other reading materials were arbitrarily confiscated. Lawyers at ANHRI told CPJ that they filed an appeal as soon as Amer was convicted, but that the authorities have failed to consider it two years into his four-year prison term. Legal experts in Egypt told CPJ that such appeals are usually processed within six months.

We hope that you will direct all relevant agencies within your government to take corrective action with the above cases where necessary. We ask that you uphold Egyptian law--specifically articles 47-49 of the Egyptian Constitution--and respect Egypt's obligations under articles 18 and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Egypt in 1982, in similar cases in the future.                                                                                                

Thank you for your attention to this important matter. We look forward to your reply.

 

Sincerely,

Joel Simon 

Executive Director 

March 13, 2009 12:48 PM ET |

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