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Freedom of speech means freedom for the speakers!

October 1, 2008

Article 47 of the Egyptian Constitution is supposed to guarantee free expression. In reality, however, bloggers, journalists and Internet activists still risk prison and torture for speaking or writing about religion or the president.

While the Egyptian Constitution is supposed to guarantee free expression, several other provisions of Egyptian law render this so-called guarantee meaningless.

  • Article 80(d) of the Penal Code imposes a prison sentence of up to five years on any Egyptian who “carries out any activity aimed at damaging the national interest of the country.”
  • Article 98(f) of the Penal Code imposes up to five years in prison for any person who “disparages or belittles any divinely revealed religion.”
  • Article 102 of the Penal Code allows for the detention of “whoever deliberately diffuses news, information, data, or false or tendentious rumors, or propagates exciting publicity, if this is liable to disturb public security, spread horror among the people, or cause harm or damage to the public interest.”
  • Article 179 of the Penal Code allows for the detention of “whoever affronts the President of the Republic.”

Suppression of expression

While the Egyptian government and juridical and law enforcement systems do not take neither the constitution or freedom of expression too seriously, they are all too zealous when it comes the suppression of expression.

In late 2005, Egyptian authorities began what Human Rights First calls a campaign against bloggers and journalists. This assault on free expression continued in 2007, with the detention and sentencing of several bloggers and journalists, including the editors of four independent newspapers.

Abdul Kareem Nabil Suleiman is probably the best known of the Egyptian bloggers become prisoners of conscience. On February 22nd 2007, the 23-year-old blogger, known as Kareem Amer, was found guilty of insulting Islam and President Hosni Mubarak, and sentenced to four years in prison. According to Human Rights First, his physical condition has deteriorated significantly during his time in prison, due to harsh treatment by both prison guards and other prisoners.

Mosaad Suleiman Hassan (a.k.a. Mosaad Abu Fajr) used his blog called “Wedna Ne`iesh,” (“we want to live”) for discussing issues faced by Egypt’s Bedouin communities.  Abu Fajr was arrested on December 26, 2007, reportedly in connection with a sit-in by members of the Bedouin community near Rafah City.

Mohamed Refaat was arrested on July 21, 2008, after reporting to state security to retrieve a computer seized by security officers during an early morning raid from his home.  Among the accusations Refaat reportedly faces are that he used his blog to incite a strike.  Although state security decided to release Refaat, another division within the agency’s investigative branches has continued to detain him under Egypt’s Emergency Laws.

Freedom of expression is a phrase that sure looks good in a constitution. However, for the people of Egypt, it remains just that; words on a piece of paper. Freedom of speech means freedom for the speakers, and until Egyptian bloggers, journalists, editors and activists are allowed to express themselves freely, the Egyptian constitutional “guarantee” of freedom of speech is nothing but a rather offensive joke.

Let the Egyptian authorities know what freedom of speech really means. Sign the petition to free Kareem, Abu Fajr and Refaat.

UPDATE: According to Amnesty International USA, Musaad AbuFajr was released on 14 July 2010. However, Kareem Amer is still in prison. I do not know whether Mohamed Refaat is still in prison. Can anyone inform me about his current whereabouts?

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Martin Vennard permalink
    July 30, 2010 10:57 am

    Hi, I work for BBC World Service radio’s Newshour programme in London. We are trying to get in touch with the Egyptian blogger Mosaad Suleiman Abu Fagr, who was recently relaesed from prison. Please send me any contact numbers or email addresses you have for him.
    Many thanks
    Martin Vennard


    • August 2, 2010 10:35 am

      Hi, and thank you for commenting.

      Alas, I do not have any contact information for Mosaad Suleiman Abu Fajr. As a matter of fact, I did not even know that he was released. I will try to follow up on this, and I would be happy if you could give me a heads up if you succeed in getting in touch with him.



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