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CRACKDOWN ON INTERNET USE WIDENS

As its blogosphere burgeons, Egypt is finding new ways to crack down on bloggers and other Internet users.

On 9 August, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) reported that the Egyptian government is now obliging Internet cafés to gather and keep personal information - including names, e-mail addresses and telephone numbers - of Internet users. Also, Internet café users must have a mobile phone to verify their personal information, including a personal identification number.

ANHRI says the measures amount to censorship, infringing upon privacy, and discouraging access to information on the Internet and free expression in online forums. According to the official Information and Decision Support Centre, Egypt has more than 162,000 bloggers, mostly 20- to 30-year-olds, who constitute 30 percent of Arab bloggers.

Thirty young activists arrested in Alexandria in July were members of the 64,000 member-strong Facebook group linked to the opposition April 6 Movement, according to the Menassat website. Fourteen of the detained activists, now known as the "Facebook Youth," were released by 4 August; none were formally charged.

Mohammed Refaat, a blogger arrested on 21 July, was due to have been released on 17 August. But authorities used a 40-year-old state of emergency to keep him in prison, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Refaat was arrested on charges of "offending state institutions," "undermining public security" and "using the Internet to incite others to demonstrate and strike" - "but there is nothing political in [his] blog," maintained RSF.

Older means of suppressing free expression also continue to be used.

A lawyer connected with the ruling party has demanded that a prominent female Egyptian movie director be flogged, ANHRI reported on 13 August. He called for Enas El-Dighaidy to receive 80 lashes because of her movie "Diaries of a Teenager Girl", which he claims defames Egypt.

Such "Hesba" cases against authors and artists, involving alleged insults to God, can be filed by individual lawyers or the government, and have markedly increased in the last two years, ANHRI says. In the most prominent "Hesba" case, journalist Ibrahim Issa heads to court on 28 September to try to overturn a six-month prison sentence. In a separate case, Issa and three editors are in court on 6 September.

Also in August, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) observed the fifth anniversary of a prominent journalist's disappearance, which has received no acknowledgement by Egyptian authorities. Reda Helal, a senior editor at Egypt's leading state-owned daily "Al-Ahram," vanished on 11 August 2003, on his way home in a Cairo area full of state buildings and diplomatic missions.

Visit these links:
- Internet crackdown: http://tinyurl.com/5gqag5
- Egyptian blogging: http://tinyurl.com/5dvpme
- 'Facebook Youth': http://tinyurl.com/5snmo8
- Flogging demanded: http://tinyurl.com/5lcme4
- Hesba lawsuits: http://tinyurl.com/63mr9b
- Disappearance anniversary: http://tinyurl.com/67ubyn
(27 August 2008)

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