Three young citizens, including one woman, were arrested on charges of “using social media to incite against the state and its institutions”, the Ministry of Interior (MOI) said Sunday.
The first of the three is Mohamed R., according to MOI’s statement. He is 28 and was taken from Nasr City. He is accused of managing seven Facebook pages. “The suspect has confessed to incitement against the State in addition to falsely passing information related to criminal prisoners as if they were political detainees,” a statement by the MOI stated.
Galal M., 27, was arrested from his house in Boulaq El-Dakrour in Giza for managing five pages on Facebook for the purpose of provoking the State, a “crime to which he confessed”, according to the same MOI statement.
Iman M., 25, is a female Engineering graduate and apparently runs 11 Facebook pages from her homeland in the governorate of Daqahleya. “She has confessed that she belongs to the terrorist organisation of the Muslim Brotherhood and that she has published posts that incite against the State,” the official statement continued.
The suspects are now facing interrogation by prosecution authorities, according to the MOI. Criminal evidence seized includes the suspects’ laptops and phones. Officials did not specify the names of the Facebook pages, as they have done before in previous arrests under the same circumstances.
Nearly a dozen citizens have been arrested in 2015 for similar accusations, the most recent of which were at the beginning of December, as Egyptian security forces arrested two people on charges of creating and administrating more than 20 anti-government Facebook pages.
The suspects were accused of calling for marches on 25 January 2016, considered an incitement to violence, and were also “labeled” as members of the “banned Muslim Brotherhood organisation”, according to the MOI.
One of the cases that sparked “mockery” among human rights’ activists was that of 6 April Youth Movement member Karam Zakareya, who became to be known as the “Facebook-like detainee”. Zakareya was arrested in December 2014, for suspicion of being linked to a page that had at the time over 24,000 fans, called the ‘Green Wave’, which often posted anti-government content. Zakareya was first given a prison sentence for three months and a fine of 20,000 EGP. In June 2015, he was acquitted of charges of “publishing false news and aiming to overthrow the government”.
He spoke to Daily News Egypt Sunday about his case and said that “there was simply no case.” He said that authorities accused him without concrete evidence. “I am not sure why they chose me specifically but they ended up charging me with spreading false news and incitement against the army and the police,” Zakareya said.Zakareya was surprised to discover that he had been closely watched by State Security and that the Green Wave campaign stirred their concern. “When I asked them what it was that I had published or where, they gave me the exact date of a post I had on my personal Facebook page,” he said.
“They said ‘You called for a protest against the acquittal of former president Hosni Mubarak’,” according to Zakareya. “I did not really know what they meant by ‘called’ because as far as I remember, many people were angry at the verdict and took the streets to protest.”
With “ambiguous” charges and lack of criminal evidence, Zakareya’s lawyers were able to prove his innocence. “Authorities used very broad accusations; I mean practically all Egyptians express their opinions on Facebook. It was more of a joke because I was being investigated over pressing ‘like’ on the Green Wave’s page,” Zakareya said.
Meanwhile, the Administrative Court in Egypt looking into a legal case filed by a lawyer postponed it to 20 March and demanded the ban of Facebook and Twitter on grounds that they are “unlicensed and cannot be subject to monitoring”, state media reported Sunday.
The lawsuit reportedly demanded that the “threats” posed by social media websites be taken into consideration “since they are being used in incitement for violence”. However, the same court rejected the same legal plea back in August 2015.
The plaintiff had made the exact same arguments regarding social networks’ threats to national security as well as their facilitation in the spread of rumours that harm national stability. The lawyer had also referred to the impossibility of tracking activities of social media users.
Nonetheless, the court declared that social networking websites are a means of exchanging and spreading information and that violations committed through the website is dealt with in accordance with the law by questioning the perpetrators of the violations themselves without blocking the media channel.
The MOI department in charge of monitoring Internet activity is called the Central Department for Information and Communication Technology. A report issued last October by the independent Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) observed an expansion in the scope of criminalisation of online activity between June 2014 and May 2015.
It highlighted new laws passed within that time period, such as the anti-terrorism law, that have apparently contributed to increasing the space for online offences by including “broad definitions” of Internet crimes.
Although the report mentioned that while authorities did not engage in blocking online content and that access to social media remains widely available, it stated that Egypt had been preparing the legal ground to allow for greater online surveillance.