Police arrested blogger Wael Abbas from his Cairo home on May 23, 2018 and took him to an undisclosed location, according to news reports and the journalist’s lawyer, Gamal Eid. The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), an Egyptian human rights organization headed by Eid, reported that the police did not show a warrant or give reason for the arrest before they blindfolded Abbas and took him away in his pajamas. The human rights organization said that police seized Abbas’ computer, phones, books, and other personal items.
On May 28, 2018 the pro-government news website Al-Youm Al-Sabea and other-pro government media cited investigation records that said the prosecutor accused Wael of “the crime of communicating with foreign organizations and organizations to spread their ideas… to incite against the state and promote the overthrow of the regime and the destruction of the Egyptian state.” The prosecutor ordered a technical committee to examine Abbas’s laptops, cellphones, storage files, and online accounts, according to the same pro-government reports.
The prosecutor did not cite any specific content or name the foreign organizations Abbas allegedly communicated with.
Abbas denied the accusations and said that he expressed his opinion in a legitimate and peaceful manner, according to news reports.
Abbas documented police abuse and torture in Egypt on his blog, Misr Digital (Egyptian Awareness). In March, he published a collection of his blog posts in a book, Another One, in which he criticized the Egyptian government. He told CPJ in March 2018 there were attempts to hack his social media and email accounts.
Abbas also had a YouTube channel, in which he posted a number of videos about sexual harassment, police abuse, and other human rights issues. Over the years, Abbas has received threatening phone calls, was detained at the Cairo airport, was pulled off the street and held for hours, and called a criminal on television and online.
Abbas’s sister Rasha told the London based Al-Arabi TV on July 5, 2018, that her brother was handcuffed, hanged from the wall of his cell and kept in his underwear during his detention. His lawyer Mohamed Fathy told Mada Masr on August 5, 2018, that Abbas’s health deteriorated in custody as he suffered from chest pains and breathing problems because of the crowded cell. On October 9, 2018, his lawyer said prison authorities didn’t allow Abbas to be treated in the prison hospital, even after the prosecutor agreed with his request for treatment several times.
On September 28, 2018, a panel of U.N. human rights experts urged Egyptian authorities to ensure Abbas is afforded every right to due process and a fair, impartial, and public trial.
On December 1, 2018, a Giza Criminal Court ordered Abbas to be released on probation along with the photographer Momen Hassan, and academic Walid al-Shobaky, his lawyer Karim Abdel Rady told CPJ. They were ordered to report to police twice a week for 45 days, AFTE reported. As of December 3, 2018, all three were still in custody.
Abbas is one of several journalists arrested as part of a larger crackdown and trial known as case 441, in which dozens of defendants in a mass trial face charges of spreading false news and being a member of a banned group. The trial came as Egypt’s crackdown on the press deepened in 2018; authorities ratcheted up their rhetoric against media outlets as President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi ran for and won re-election. Government officials and media regulators threatened the media with fines and prosecutors detained journalists for allegedly spreading false news.
Late in 2018, the Ministry of Interior, which has oversight of the police and prison system, and the prosecutor general’s office had not answered CPJ’s requests for comment sent via email.