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Internet activist detained after businessman files libel complaint

(ANHRI/IFEX) - The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) strongly condemns the storming of the house of Internet activist Tamer Azab and his subsequent arrest. A group of police officers, led by Walid Abd Al Salam, arrested Azab as a favour for Tarek Nour, a powerful businessman. Nour filed a complaint against Azab accusing him of insult and libel, an accusation which, if it is proven to be true, could lead to a prison sentence.

Azab was detained on 25 October 2009 without an arrest warrant, an action which clearly involved manipulation of and disrespect for the law and was biased towards one of the most powerful businessmen and the owner of one of the biggest advertising agencies in Egypt.

Azab participated in a group on Facebook that revealed that the AlKahira Wa AlNas television station, which is owned by Nour, violated the intellectual property rights of the famous English programme "The Benny Hill Show". The independent Egyptian daily "AlDostor" reported on the same violation in mid-August.

Instead of investigating the explicit violation of the intellectual property law, the police took the businessman's side and arrested Azab, as well as seizing his computer.

A lawyer from ANHRI's Legal Aid Unit for freedom of expression attended a hearing with Azab and provided information on the case to the prosecution, revealing that the police violated the law and overstepped their boundaries. The prosecution then changed the charge from "insult and libel" to "deliberately disturbing and harassing others".

ANHRI said that "this is a shameful incident for the Egyptian police. Instead of investigating the infringement of intellectual property disclosed by the press and the Internet activist, the police terrorised the activist as a favour to a powerful businessman. Whether this action was taken voluntarily by the police or upon a request from Tarek Nour, the law has been totally trampled and manipulated by those who are sworn to uphold it. This has become the norm in Egypt recently."

ANHRI added, "We are following this case closely. We expect the prosecution to proceed to court so that the police officers' violations can be exposed . . . We also expect an investigation to be opened into the incident reported by 'AlDostor' and the Internet activist accusing the AlKahira Wa AlNas television station, owned by Tarek Nour, of infringement of intellectual property."

ANHRI has been informed that Azab is still in detention even though the prosecution issued a release order on 25 October. This represents a clear example of abuse of authority by the police, who are violating the law and disrespecting the prosecution's decision.

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