Police arrested Dostour Party member Nael Hassan from his home in Alexandria early on Thursday morning. His lawyer Mahienour al-Massry told Mada Masr that he stands accused of charges including insulting the president of the republic.
Prosecutors have reportedly accused Hassan of insulting President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi online, of affiliation to an outlawed group, involvement with a group inciting public opinion, obstructing state institutions and attempting to overthrow the regime.
The Dostour Party issued a statement on Friday condemning the arrest, stating that it “condemns and deplores the arrest of our colleague Nael Hassan, as part of the ongoing campaign targeting all political activists who have dissenting opinions.”
The statement says that the accusations leveled against Hassan and others are “illogical and largely fabricated.” It adds that they are related to his exercising of “the most basic rights to freedom of opinion and expression via social media networks, which seem to be subjected to clear official restrictions in Egypt.”
It also refutes the authorities’ claims that Hassan was arrested while distributing leaflets in the streets, but rather from his home.
Earlier in April the Alexandria Criminal Court found rights lawyer Mohammed Ramadan guilty of defaming Sisi, and sentenced him in absentia to 10 years in prison, along with five years of house arrest, while also banning him from using social media platforms for this duration.
Ramadan, who has not yet been detained, was charged with insulting the president, misuse of social media and incitement of violence.
Amnesty International issued a statement last week denouncing the sentence. Najia Bounaim, Amnesty’s campaign director for North Africa, commented: “Mohamed Ramadan’s conviction is a blatant assault on freedom of expression, and is a chilling illustration of the danger to peaceful critics posed by the authorities’ abuse of the 2015 counter-terror law. Instead of locking up people for expressing their views online, the Egyptian government must end its relentless campaign to intimidate government critics.”
She referred to the provisions of Egypt’s Counter-Terrorism Law, which Sisi issued in 2015 by presidential decree. It stipulates more severe punishments for terrorism-related offenses, including including vaguely outlined punishments for actions deemed to be supportive of terrorism, including the use of social networking sites.
“It is utterly shocking that the Egyptian authorities have imposed such a heavy sentence against someone who was exercising his right to freedom of expression. Posting a comment on Facebook is not a criminal offense — no one should face imprisonment for expressing their views, even if others consider their comments offensive,” added Bounaim.
Egypt’s security forces have increasingly pursued outspoken government critics based on what they publish on social media. The accusations leveled against both Hassan and Ramadan follow Parliament’s approval of a three-month-long state of emergency, first announced by Sisi following the twin attacks on the St. George Church in Tanta, and St. Mark Church in Alexandria on April 9, or Palm Sunday, which resulted in the deaths of nearly 50 individuals, and the injury of over 100 others.