Rights groups have called for the immediate release of an Egyptian cartoonist who wrote on Facebook he was being arrested shortly after posting online a video tribute to the country’s 2011 uprising on the 10th anniversary of the first mass demonstrations which overthrew longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak.
“I’m getting arrested,” Ashraf Hamdi said in the post early on Monday. Hundreds of users have since shared, with many questioning his whereabouts.
Hamdi had earlier published a short cartoon video dedicated to the “heroes” of Mohamed Mahmoud street in central Cairo, where dozens of protesters were killed in clashes with the security forces in November 2011.
On Monday, two security sources confirmed to Reuters news agency that authorities had detained Hamdi, who runs a YouTube channel called Egyptoon, which has more than 3 million subscribers. The sources said the cartoonist – who is also a dentist – was taken early in the morning from his home for investigation on charges of misusing social media sites and spreading false news.
There was no immediate comment by authorities.
In a statement released on Monday, Director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information Gamal Eid called for Hamdi’s immediate release.
“We hope that the public prosecutor will rush to stop this crime,” the statement read.
It added: “His arrest in such a manner on the anniversary of the Egyptian revolution against police practices clearly indicates that the police has not changed and that such an approach is an inherent characteristic of the police apparatus in Egypt. So will the public prosecutor take action and assume his role in protecting the law and the freedoms of citizens?”
Demonstrations that led to the overthrow of Mubarak and helped spread a wave of protest across the region started a decade ago on January 25, when Egypt marks national police day.
According to RSF, 32 journalists are currently imprisoned (33 if Ashraf Hamdi is not released). Egypt is one of the biggest jailers of journalists in the world. The organisation calls for their immediate and unconditional release. pic.twitter.com/w6L97eld5q
— RSF (@RSF_inter) January 25, 2021
On Monday, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi made an annual address at the police academy in Cairo that focused on the importance of stability and development but made a brief reference to the uprising.
“Today coincides with Egypt’s celebration of the revolution of January 25, a revolution led by sincere youth, aspiring to a better future and reality,” el-Sisi said.
“I say to the youth of Egypt that your nation is looking to your youthful arms and truthful efforts to complete the path of reform, construction and development.”
In 2013, then-army-chief el-Sisi led the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president. El-Sisi became president in 2014, and has overseen a broad crackdown on political dissent.
Media watchdog Reporters without Borders (RSF) on Monday condemned the “cynicism” of Egyptian authorities following the arrest of Hamdi on the 10th anniversary of the revolution, saying press freedom in the country was at its lowest point.
“Ten years after the Egyptian revolution, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s government has muzzled the country’s journalists and media,” said Sabrina Bennoui, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk. “Journalists can no longer say what they think and have no choice but to repeat the official line or risk being jailed for threatening the state’s stability.”
According to RSF’s tally, more than 100 journalists have been subjected to arbitrary arrest or imprisonment since January 2014