Egypt: Prominent blogger Wael Abbas detained by authorities

Arrest of Wael Abbas comes amid a wider crackdown on dissent as thousands have been jailed and websites blocked.

Wael Abbas screen grab
Wael Abbas alerted his followers on his Facebook account that he was being detained [Al Jazeera]

Prominent Egyptian activist and blogger, Wael Abbas has been arrested by Egyptian authorities after an early morning raid at his home, the latest in a new wave of arrests since elections earlier this year.

Egyptian security officials confirmed his arrest on Wednesday, saying that the blogger, who is known for criticising the government, was taken from his home in a Cairo suburb, an official told AP news agency.

Abbas was detained on accusations that include disseminating false news and joining an outlawed group, added the official who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak to the media.

At 4am local time, Abbas alerted his followers on his Facebook account that authorities were moving against him. “I am being detained,” he wrote.

He was blindfolded, taken from his home to an unknown location and prevented from contacting his lawyer, according to the Arab Network for Human Rights.

Abbas’ friends and acquaintances responded by launching the Arabic hashtag “where_is_Wael_Abbas” on Twitter. His whereabouts remain unknown, Mada Masr quoted rights lawyer Gamal Eid as saying.

Egypt has arrested a number of secular activists since President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi won a re-election in March in a vote where he faced no serious challengers. 

An ongoing wave of enforced disappearances has been reported in Egypt for several years. In 2016, Amnesty International reported an unprecedented spike in enforced disappearances of opponents to the government aimed at silencing the opposition.

In response to Abbas’ disappearance, Rana Allam, former managing editor of Daily News Egypt told Al Jazeera, “Wael writes all the time, and when he doesn’t write, he uses social media to speak out and provides people with information about what is happening around them.

“He doesn’t budge and has been doing what many of us can no longer do. This is all very scary for the government,” added Allam.

Abbas is known for his strongly worded, anti-governmental stances and his role in documenting and reporting the 2011 uprising against former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Abbas previously received awards for his work from Human Rights Watch and CNN and was named among the BBC’s Most Influential Persons in 2006.

In December 2017, Twitter faced sharp criticism after the account of Abbas was suspended. His Twitter account remains suspended although the reasons are unclear.

In 2007, Wael’s YouTube account was also reportedly suspended after he posted videos demonstrating police brutality in Egypt. His Facebook account, which continues to work until today, has been hacked, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

Commenting on the news, Sophie Amnuth, director of Middle East desk at RSF said, “Although it is not clear who was behind these moves [the suspension of his Twitter account], they appear to have been politically motivated.

“Abbas was documenting the Egyptian government’s violations for many years on his social media accounts.”

Widening crackdown

Abbas’ disappearance comes amid a wider crackdown on dissent in which thousands of people have been jailed, unauthorised protests have been banned and hundreds of websites have been blocked.

An Egyptian military court sentenced Ismail Alexandrani, a prominent journalist and expert on rebel movements in the Sinai, to 10 years in prison, his lawyer and a military judicial official said.

Alexandrani, who was arrested in November 2015, was accused of publishing military secrets and belonging to the banned Muslim Brotherhood, his lawyer Tarek Abdel Aal told AFP news agency on Tuesday.

In a report published by RSF earlier this month, the Paris-based organisation called on Egyptian authorities “not to confuse disrespect with terrorism” after the arrest of three bloggers that had been critical of the government.

Documenting the cases of three Egyptian bloggers who had been arrested in recent months, the report detailed the recent extension of Egypt’s crackdown on journalists to include bloggers as well.

Anmuth reflected on the increasingly difficult environment for journalists in Egypt, “It is very difficult for citizen journalists in Egypt because there are only a limited number of media outlets that are acceptable to the government and these outlets are limited in their freedom.

“Media outlets that have been left to work are mostly either government-owned or supported. There are some private newspapers but that doesn’t mean they are actually free.”

Allam agreed, “There are no more journalists nor real journalism in Egypt. There is no freedom for the press for this move [to arrest Abbas] to have a wider impact.”

At least 35 journalists, citizen-journalists and bloggers are currently detained in Egypt, according to RSF.

Most of the detainees are being held pending trial, including Al Jazeera’s Mahmoud Hussein, who has spent more than 500 days in jail. He has yet to be formally charged.

Egypt is ranked 161st out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index

Source: Al Jazeera