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Situation for netizens worsens

(RSF/IFEX) - 27 October 2011- Although the United Nations special rapporteur for freedom of expression, Frank La Rue, reiterated the importance of protecting online freedom of expression in a report to the General Assembly last week, Egypt is pursuing increasingly repressive policies towards the Internet and bloggers.

Free expression on Facebook threatened

In one of the latest cases, Ayman Youssef Mansour, a netizen who was arrested in August, was sentenced by a Cairo court on 22 October to three years of forced labour on a charge of deliberately insulting, attacking and mocking Islam on Facebook.

"Without taking a position on the content of Mansour's posts, we regret that a law that bans insulting a religion was used to punish a blogger," Reporters Without Borders said. "This vaguely worded law was often used under Hosni Mubarak to silence dissidents. The blogger Kareem Amer, for example, was given a jail sentence in 2007 on a charge of insulting the Prophet. The former regime's practices are being continued by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces."

Jailed blogger given 45 days in psychiatric clinic

Reporters Without Borders also deplores the fact that the imprisoned blogger Maikel Nabil Sanad has been confined to El-Khanka psychiatric clinic in Qalubiyah province for 45 days under a court order issued at a hearing in his retrial on 18 October. The next hearing is scheduled for 1 November.

His lawyer, Mahdouh Nakhla, the header of the Al-Kalema Centre for Human Rights, fears that Sanad could be subjected to electroconvulsive therapy, which he describes as "legalized torture." Detained since March, Sanad is already suffering from renal and neurological problems, anemia and other complication from his hunger strike. ECT could prove fatal.

"Sanad, who has been on a hunger strike for two months and has serious health problems, will not get the treatment he needs in a psychiatric establishment," Reporters Without Borders said. "He must be freed as a matter of urgency and given appropriate medical care. If he dies in detention, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces will be held entirely responsible for the death of the first prisoner of conscience since the revolution."

Two cyber-activists summoned by military court

Reporters Without Borders is also worried that two cyber-activists - Alaa Abd El Fattah and Bahaa Saber - were summoned on 24 October to appear the next day before a military court that is investigating the Coptic Christian protests in Cairo on 9 October that ended in violence.

Their appearance has been postponed because Fattah, a blogger and software developer, is currently in San Francisco attending the Silicon Valley Human Rights Conference. Fattah and Saber were already detained in 2006 for expressing anti-Mubarak views online. Saber was arrested and tortured again in 2010.

It is not known what they may be charged with but they have been informally warned that they are to be questioned about their coverage of the Copt protests. Fattah said on Twitter that he would probably be accused of inciting violence and destruction of public property. During the protest, both actively helped victims of the violence and their families, and helped take the injured to hospital.

A pro-Mubarak video-blogger nicknamed Ahmed "Spider" has posted a video on YouTube entitled "Alaa Abd El Fattah the atheist runs away to America after I submitted a case against him."

Opposition to the Supreme Council's measures is growing. Referring to Sanad's confinement in a psychiatric hospital, writer and activist Willima Weesa wrote: "This decision violates his civil rights. Many people who have been confined [to psychiatric institutions] by the security forces have entered in good health and emerged devastated."

Yosri Foudra, a former BBC and Al-Jazeera journalist who now hosts a public affairs programme on privately-owned ONTV, suspended his programme on 21 October in protest against the continuation of Mubarak-style censorship methods since the revolution. Alaa El-Aswani, a writer who has often criticized the military, wrote on Twitter. "Is it now forbidden for anyone to criticize the Supreme Council? The revolution needs a new chapter."

Reporters Without Borders meanwhile welcomes the seven-year jail sentences that a court passed on two policemen, Mahmoud Salah Mahmoud and Awad Ismael Soliman, yesterday for beating the young netizen Khaled Said to death as he left an Internet café in Alexandria on 6 June 2010. They were initially accused of just unwarranted arrest and torture.

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