On January 25th, an Egyptian cartoonist was arrested for posting a video tribute to the country’s rebellion during the Arab Spring in 2011. Ashraf Hamdi published his video on social media on the tenth anniversary of the first mass demonstrations in Egypt. These demonstrations played a key role in overthrowing President Hosni Mubarak, who had ruled the country for 30 years. Now, human rights groups are demanding Hamdi’s freedom, condemning Egypt’s long history of oppressing media freedoms.
Hamdi posted his tribute on his YouTube channel, Egyptoon, which has over 3 million subscribers. The video was a short cartoon dedicated to the “heroes” of Mohamed Mahmoud street in central Cairo, where several protesters were killed in November 2011. Hamdi announced on his Facebook page that he was being arrested shortly after the video was posted. In an interview with Reuters on the 25th, two security forces confirmed that Hamdi was taken from his home and detained early that morning, facing charges of abusing social media sites and distributing false news. Authorities have not commented on the arrest.
Gamal Eid, Director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, released a statement demanding Hamdi be freed immediately. “We hope that the public prosecutor will rush to stop this crime,” he said, adding, “His arrest in such a manner on the anniversary of the Egyptian revolution against police practices clearly indicates that the police has not changed and that such an approach is an inherent characteristic of the police apparatus in Egypt. So will the public prosecutor take action and assume his role in protecting the law and the freedoms of citizens?”
Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (R.S.F.) also condemned the attack, arguing that press freedom in Egypt is at its lowest point. Sabrina Bennoui, head of R.S.F.’s Middle East desk, said, “Journalists can no longer say what they think and have no choice but to repeat the official line or risk being jailed for threatening the state’s stability.”
Hamdi’s case is one in a pattern of media repression in Egypt. Since January 2014, over 100 journalists have been exposed to arbitrary arrest or incarceration. This repression impedes democracy and poses a threat to civil liberties. Authorities must be held accountable for the unmotivated arrests and detained journalists should be released instantly.
Egypt has a long history of forcing its citizens to comply with the values of the government. When the Arab Spring broke out in 2011, protesters in Egypt joined the uprising, hoping a democratic country would bring them a brighter future. The demonstrations were successful, and the masses managed to overthrow President Mubarak and his regime. However, the peace did not last long. In 2013, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi organized a military coup against Mohamed Mursi, the country’s first democratically-elected president. al-Sisi became president in 2014, and political dissent has characterized the country ever since.
In response to the anniversary of the 2011 uprisings, al-Sisi stressed the importance of order and development, arguing that his regime has managed to enforce stability out of the Arab Spring’s turmoil. In a speech on the 25th, he spoke to the “youth of Egypt,” saying, “[Your] nation is looking to your youthful arms and truthful efforts to complete the path of reform, construction and development.”
Freedom of the media is a significant pillar of democracy; all regimes must be subject to criticism. Freedom of the press and freedom of speech are human rights that must be enforced and verified by legal institutions. Ashraf Hamdi and the people of Egypt deserve the right to express their opinions, no matter the leadership of their country.
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