Thursday, February 18, 2010

Democracy Alert: Tightening Political Space in Egypt:

Two Youth Activists Arrested in Egypt

Ahmed Maher and Amr Ali, both leaders in the April 6th Youth Movement, were arrested in the early morning on 16 February as they were driving home from a meeting regarding the welcoming reception planned for Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Mohamed Elbaradei, who many activists are calling on to run for presidency in Egypt's upcoming election. Maher and Ali were stopped at a security checkpoint, forced out of their car, and taken to jail. They were charged for distributing political leaflets and painting slogans on a local bridge, claims that are contested by many on the ground. Maher and Ali were able to send text messages to alert others of their detention before officers confiscated their phones. Maher and Ali were denied their right to a lawyer and were not allowed any visitors. Both men were later taken to the courthouse for prosecution. Sources on the ground reported that supporters gathered outside to protest their arrest and were beaten and attacked by security forces in retaliation to their peaceful demonstration.

Their arrest comes on the heels of an arrest of prominent blogger and human rights activist Wael Abbas. Abbas, who often exposes the Egyptian Government's corruption, was accused and arrested on 23 January for tampering with and damaging his neighbor's cable line. The neighbor is a brother of a police officer, and both broke into Abbas' home and assaulted him and his mother last April 2009. Following the April attack, Abbas filed a complaint with the police department resulting in further harassment and eventually leading to this false arrest. It is suspected that these assaults were motivated to respond to Abbas' efforts to expose the two police officers for torturing and raping a bus driver by publishing the torture video. Despite the severe crime, those two police officers received reduced sentences. This is one example of many attempts by the government to crackdown on bloggers who challenge the Government. Most bloggers write anonymously to avoid persecution. Abbas is one of the few who does not.

Another victim of such government restriction on the freedom of expression is Hani Nazeer, a blogger arrested in October 2008. Hani Nazeer, who is a prisoner of conscience and a Coptic Christian, has been detained since his 2008 arrest in response to residents in his city of Qina denouncing him for posting the cover of a book on his blog that they considered insulting to Muslims. Amnesty International, among others, have called for Nazeer's immediate release.

The cases of Maher, Ali, Abbas, and Nazeer demonstrate a growing trend of the Egyptian government tightening political space by targeting bloggers and civil society activists as the Presidential elections loom.

Take Action!

The Egyptian government must know people outside Egypt are watching their actions and will not tolerate injustice toward activists and bloggers who simply are exposing the truth and wish for freedom of expression.

Please send letters to your local Egyptian Embassies or Consulate demanding the immediate release of Ahmed Maher, Amr Ali, and Hani Nazeer and inquiring about Wael Abbass's charges. Please also urge Egyptian authorities to respect citizens' rights to express their opinions freely and exercise political rights.

To find Egyptian embassies: Also, please contact your local Amnesty International chapter ( to alert them of Ahmed Maher and Amr Ali's case and urge them to take action.

For more information on the April 6th Movement, go to:

For more information on Mohamed Elbaradei's return to Egypt, go to:

For more information on Wael Abbas case, go to:

For more information on Hani Nazeer's case, go to:

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