Cartoonist Islam Gawish arrested for anti-gov’t comics

Security forces arrested cartoonist Islam Gawish on Sunday for drawings critical of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and the Egyptian state, his colleague Mohamed al-Ziyat told Mada Masr.

Nasr City Prosecution postponed their interrogation of Gawish until Monday morning, pending investigations by National Security, Sameh Samir, a lawyer with the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights told Mada Masr. Gawish will be held at Nasr City Police Station overnight. The complaint and arrest warrant were issued by the artistic products police department against the manager of the company where Gawish works, but he was arrested for possession of drawings offensive to the state, Samir said, adding that it’s unclear whether they intended to arrest Gawish to begin with, but they took him when they found his cartoons.Gawish spent three hours at Nasr City Prosecution waiting to be questioned, before they decided to wait until the next day.

At noon, a force of over 10 security personnel stormed the social media marketing company where Gawish works and arrested him, confiscating his laptop and other computers owned by the organization, Ziyat reported.

Gawish told Ziyat that he was taken to Nasr City Police Station, and that he would spend the night in custody. He was told that he was arrested for his drawings before his phone was switched off.

A source at the Ministry of Interior told privately owned Al-Bedaya news website that Gawish is being detained for running a website and Facebook page without permits and disseminating false news, in addition to illegally possessing pirated computer software. The source added that Gawish will be referred to prosecution.

According to a statement by the Interior Ministry, published by the state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper, Gawish was arrested during an inspection by the artistic products police department after they received information that one of the company’s founders was broadcasting news with no license. The Interior Ministry spokesperson said Gawish was arrested because he’s in charge of the graphics department.

Gawish is most known for his work with Al-Waraqa comics, and has a popular Facebook page with over one million followers. His comics focus mainly on social issues in Egyptian society, and he often draws story boards for popular songs. A collection of Gawish’s drawings were printed in a book last year.

Gawish’s arrest comes in the midst of a security crackdown that intensified in the lead-up to the fifth anniversary of the January 25 revolution. Residents of downtown Cairo apartments were subject to nighttime raids by state officials in recent weeks, along with inspections of institutions in the area, including performance art center Studio Emad Eddin and the independent Merit Publishing House. The privately owned Masr al-Arabia news website was also raided by the Office of Artistic Products Police Department and managing editor Ahmed Abdel Gawad was temporarily detained. Security officials also raided Townhouse Gallery and the adjacent Rawabet Theater, both of which remain closed.

Academics, journalists and activists critical of the government have also been subjected to a crackdown on freedom of expression and dissent. Among those arrested for their work are journalists Ismail Alexandarani and Hesham Gaafar, both of whom remain in pretrial detention. The Committee to Protect Journalists issued a report in December placing Egypt as the second worst jailer of journalists in 2015, second only to China, with at least 23 journalists currently in jail.