2011-01-28 Cable: Egypt action against poet, bloggers, novelist and journalists

US State cable 2009-07-28 09CAIRO1447 describes action taken by the Egyptian government against an amateur poet, bloggers, a novelist and journalists.

An amateur poet

A local government clerk arrested, convicted and jailed for writing unpublished poetry allegedly insulting to President Mubarak, illustrates how proactive security forces and courts can successfully move against a civilian defended by incompetent lawyers. In late June, the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) issued a statement that police arrested XXXXXXXXXXXXXX in April for defaming Mubarak in a poem, and a local court subsequently sentenced him to three years in prison. According to the statement, the court set bail at LE 100,000 (15,000 USD) pending appeal, and since XXXXXXXXXXXX could not afford that sum, he remained in jail. Skilled Cairo-based lawyers from ANHRI appealed the case, and a Minya appeals court acquitted XXXXXXXXXXX July 8; he was released July 20. XXXXXXXXXXXX might still be in jail if his original defense lawyers had not sought help.

XXXXXXXXXXXXX told us he was not aware of the case until June when lawyers from Minya contacted him to help with the appeal. XXXXXXXXXXXXX attributed the conviction in part to the poor skills of the defense lawyers. The case remained virtually unknown until the days leading up to the July 18 appeal verdict when the local and international press began reporting on it. Until mid-July, even our contacts specializing in freedom of expression were unaware of the case. Following XXXXXXXXXXXX’s release from prison, XXXXXXXXX appeared on Egyptian satellite television and said XXXXXXXXXXXX would not write any more poetry critical of the government. XXXXXXXXXXX also criticized lawyers from Minya for not defending him aggressively out of fear of the GOE’s response.

Bloggers

In a blogging environment often critical of the government, the GOE has selectively moved against certain bloggers. Most recently, the GOE arrested three young, Muslim Brotherhood (MB)-affiliated bloggers. XXXXXXXXXXXXX confirmed for us July 27 that State Security Investigative Services (SSIS) arrested bloggers XXXXXXXXXXXXX and XXXXXXXXXXXXXX at Cairo International Airport following their return from a conference in XXXXXXXXXXX. XXXXXXXXXXXX also confirmed that SSIS arrested a third blogger, XXXXXXXXXXXXXX, at his home on XXXXXXXXXXX, and that all three bloggers remained in detention. The MB website reported XXXXXXXXXXX that the GOE released XXXXXXXXXXXXX that day. The three bloggers have criticized trials of MB members in military courts and have voiced support for MB detainees. Our contacts have asserted that the GOE fears young, tech-savvy MB-affiliated bloggers because of their ability to generate mass support for the Brotherhood and organize rallies and other events via the internet. Contacts attributed the arrest and torture of young MB-blogger XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX in XXXXXXXXXXXX(refs D, E) to these factors. Police released XXXXXXXXXXXXX in XXXXXXXXXXXX (ref D).

Prominent blogger XXXXXXXXXXXX ran afoul of the GOE by publicly criticizing the regime in late June at a conference in XXXXXXXXXXXXX (ref B). XXXXXXXXXXXXXX, who was held at XXXXXXXXXXXX International Airport XXXXXXXXXX for 13 hours upon his return, told us XXXXXXXXXXXXX that police have still not returned his laptop. Hafez Abu Seada, Secretary-General of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights which is representing XXXXXXXXXXXX, told us July 22 that the police have not responded to his organization’s inquiries beyond saying that they are holding the laptop to search for “intellectual property violations.” XXXXXXXXXXXXX had told us that NDP members attending the same conference in XXXXXXXXXXXXX reported his critical comments to the GOE.

The GOE is using the Emergency Law to reject court orders for the release of blogger XXXXXXXXXXXXXX whom SSIS has kept in jail since XXXXXXXXXXXXXX for allegedly insulting both Islam and Christianity (ref C). XXXXXXXXXXXXX’s lawyer XXXXXXXXXXX told us that the Interior Ministry rejected a XXXXXXXXXXXXX court order to release XXXXXXXXXXXXX, and since SSIS made the arrest under the Emergency Law, neither the courts nor attorneys have any recourse. XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX commented that this is the fifth time the MOI has refused to follow court decisions ordering XXXXXXXXXXXXX’s release.

A novelist and Journalists

The GOE and NDP operatives have stepped up their efforts to file lawsuits against political opponents. Human Rights attorney XXXXXXXXXXXXX told us in late June that he is defending the leading independent newspaper “Al-Masry Al-Youm” against more than 70 defamation suits, most of which have been filed by NDP loyalists. XXXXXXXXXXXXX is also defending XXXXXXXXXXXXX author of XXXXXXXXXXXXX against a government suit alleging that the work is profane. XXXXXXXXXXXXX said the MOI filed the profanity suit as a pretext to punish the author for the novel’s criticism of the NDP and of MOI heavy-handed police tactics against demonstrators. The profanity suit focuses on one relatively explicit sex scene and the use of expletives. XXXXXXXXXXXXX said such content is common in books and magazines, and almost never incurs suits. The trial is currently adjourned until the fall.

EOHR Secretary-General Hafez Abu Seada told us in early July that he is defending XXXXXXXXXXXXX, a journalist from the weekly newspaper XXXXXXXXXXXXX whom he said the Interior Ministry has targeted for writing a series of articles critical of the minister and other senior MOI officials. Abu Seada said an Interior Ministry general confronted XXXXXXXXXXXXX on the street as a pretext for filing charges against him for allegedly “assaulting” an officer. The Arab Network for Human Rights Information issued a statement July 13 criticizing the police for breaking into XXXXXXXXXXXXX’s home six times between July 10 and 11.

In mid-July, police arrested Yasser Barakat, editor-in-chief of the independent paper “Al-Moagaz,” to implement a June 24 court decision convicting him of defaming independent MP and SSIS confidante Mustafa Bakry. In the first instance in recent memory of a journalist jailed for defamation, Barakat spent 5 days in jail before his July 11 release pending appeal, following lobbying by the Press Syndicate (ref A). Contacts have told us that SSIS was able to provide political cover to support Bakry in his long-running personal feud against Barakat.

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