Five out of six members of an Egyptian satirical group, known as ‘Atfal al-Shawarea’ (Street Children), were arrested after posting videos mocking President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and criticizing the crackdown on journalists.
The first member, Ezz el-Din Khaled, was arrested Saturday at his residence in Cairo. Members Mohammed Desouki, Mohammed Adel, Mohammed Yehia, and Mohammed Gabr were arrested Monday night. The sixth member, Mohammed Zein, has not yet been detained.
According to a report by the BBC News, the men were indicted on “suspicion of insulting state institutions and inciting protests.” The videos posted online were known for allegedly insulting President Sisi, other government figures, and cultural norms. In a video released last week, the group allegedly criticized the clampdown on journalists and protests against decisions made by President Sisi.
According to the group’s attorney, Mahmoud Othman from the Association of Thought and Expression, Khaled’s bail was set at 10,000 Egyptian pounds ($1,126). Due to a lack of evidence, he was to be released on Monday, but the Masr al-Gedida prosecution appealed the decision. The Northern Cairo Misdemeanor Court rejected the appeal during a hearing on Tuesday, at which point he was later released the same day.
After a hearing on Tuesday, the four members remaining in custody were ordered to remain in jail for 15 days pending investigations into charges that include forming a group with the intent to challenge the ruling authorities and principals of the state and inciting protests with false information aimed at revolting against the government.
The group has published several satirical videos on their YouTube channel covering the politics in Egypt, art, and society in general. A video released on May 2, allegedly criticized Egypt after several reporters were arrested, which is being seen as an “escalating crackdown on the media and free speech.”
This is not the first time journalists have been jailed for speaking out in Egypt. Toward the end of 2013, employees of Qatar’s Al-Jazeera television network, Baher Mohamed, an Egyptian national, Peter Greste, an Australian citizen, and Mohamed Adel Fahmy, a dual Canadian-Egyptian, were arrested and sentenced in June 2014 for allegedly aiding the banned Muslim Brotherhood and for spreading fabricated news—in spite of the lack of evidence.
Freedom House reports that Egypt is only second to China for imprisoning journalists, stating that the conditions for the media in the country have worsened under President al-Sisi, who overthrew President Mohamed Morsi to obtain his current position. The press was granted rights under press freedoms in January. However since many of the previous legal restrictions remain in place, these granted “rights” prove pointless.
Since forcing Morsi out of position, Sisi has been known to regularly use police force to stifle protests, which are in violation of local anti-protest laws. Most recently, he had more than 1,000 people arrested for protesting against his decision to return the two islands in the Red Sea, Tiran and Sanafir, to the Saudi kingdom—a move that sparked anger among the general public.
Under the rule of Sisi, journalists often face violence and torture when placed behind bars. Media have been pushing back against the harsh conditions, criticizing the current conditions in Egypt. The journalists’ union also condemned the government after police raided their headquarters to arrest two journalists under questionable pretenses. As the media fights back, President Sisi continues to come down hard on the right to freedom of expression.
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