CAIRO, Egypt - At the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) we are alarmed at the crackdown on Egyptian civil society, which has intensified over the past weeks amidst demonstrations calling for President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to resign. Among those arrested is software developer and activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, a friend of APC and longtime advocate for human rights and social justice in Egypt and elsewhere.
Alaa was released from prison six months ago after serving a five-year sentence for violating a protest law. Upon release, he used the hashtag #Half_freedom to raise awareness about his probation conditions, which were reduced to zero when he was re-arrested at the police station on 29 September.
"Finding words to respond to the pain and fear his mother, sisters, friends and son must be feeling is very difficult,” said Anriette Esterhuysen, senior advisor on internet governance, policy advocacy and strategic planning at APC. “And it is deeply concerning that so-called rights-respecting states do not appear to be responding with serious intent to these arbitrary detentions,” she added.
Since President al-Sisi secured a second term in March 2018 and amid questioning of the electoral process, Egypt's security forces have escalated a campaign of arrests and intimidation against political opponents, peaceful activists, bloggers and others voicing criticism of the government. The crackdown also includes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) activists, artists and alleged or self-described atheists.
Crackdowns on civic space are also taking the form of increasing internet restrictions. As Global Voices reported, starting on 21 September, Twitter and Facebook Messenger became intermittently inaccessible on local internet service providers Telecom Egypt, Raya and Vodafone. Secure messaging applications Signal and Wire were reportedly blocked starting on 26 September. NetBlocks also documented disruption to these services and a number of news sites.
“Intentionally disrupting access to internet services, which people rely on to access information, organise, communicate and document abuses by the authorities, is inconsistent with international human rights law, and must cease immediately,” said Deborah Brown, APC’s global policy advocacy lead. “History should serve as a lesson that cutting Egyptians off from communicating with the world won’t diminish their will and their right to protest peacefully,” she added.