November 15, 2011 | By Jillian York

No Room for Free Expression in Egypt

When Hosni Mubarak was ousted from the Egyptian presidency in February, Egypt's revolutionaries saw a new beginning: an Egypt in which individual rights--including the right to free expression--would be respected.  Just nine months later, with several prominent bloggers languishing in prison and countless other civilians tried by military courts for protesting, the future looks bleak.

In terms of numbers, Egypt ranks third--behind only China and Iran--for threatened and jailed bloggers.  Throughout the past decade numerous well-known bloggers were imprisoned, sometimes without trial, and in many cases subjected to torture, for the crime of speaking out.  Despite hopes that Mubarak's ouster would put a stop to restrictions on free expression, under military rule, the crackdown continues.

On October 27, Ayman Youssef Mansour became the second blogger in post-Mubarak Egypt (after Maikel Nabil Sanad) to be sentenced to three years solely for expressing himself online.  His alleged crime? Joking about Islam on Facebook.  Unlike Sanad, Mansour was tried by a civilian court and found to be "in contempt of religion," a crime under article 98(f) of the Penal Code.  The Facebook page, which Mansour wrote on under a pseudonym, has since been scrubbed clean and no longer contains the allegedly insulting material.  While it is unclear how authorities tracked Mansour down, he reportedly confessed to owning the account.

Sanad, whose release EFF unconditionally supports, was transferred in late October to a psychiatric hospital for evaluation to determine whether he was responsible for his actions, and his initial conviction overturned. Now back in prison, Sanad awaits a November 27 retrial by a military court. 

Sanad and blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah (whose initial 15 day detention was extended by another 15 days) have both refused to recognize the military court's legitimacy.  They are joined by a growing international movement calling for an end to military trials for civilians.

Just as the Mubarak regime utilized emergency law to silence voices, the military--once hailed as guardians of the revolution--is shutting up bloggers at whim.

EFF calls on Egypt's Supreme Council of Armed Forces to immediately and unconditionally release anyone detained for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression.


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