March 18, 2020 – Egyptian police arrested four prominent women dissidents Wednesday after they demanded the release of prisoners for fear of a coronavirus outbreaks in jails, their families said. The four activists and academics — sisters Mona, Laila and Ahdaf Soueif, and Rabab al-Mahdi — held a small demonstration in front of the cabinet building in central Cairo. “We are in front of the cabinet building, asking for the state to take serious steps regarding coronavirus in prisons. As we know, at the best of times Egypt’s prisons are clusters for disease,” Mona Seif said in a live Facebook video before her phone was taken away by policemen and the feed switched off.
Prominent human rights lawyer Khaled Ali said the activists were referred to the prosecution for questioning. A younger sister, Sanaa Seif, said earlier that she was prevented from seeing her sisters at a Cairo police station. AFP contacted the interior ministry to confirm details of their arrest but did not receive a response. Mona Seif is the sister of well-known blogger and activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, who was imprisoned last September after rare, small-scale protests erupted demanding the toppling of President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi. She had been vocal on social media in recent weeks raising awareness about conditions in Egyptian prisons and the dangers of contagion.
Human rights groups have repeatedly criticised overcrowding and lack of hygiene. On Tuesday, Laila Soueif wrote to Egypt’s attorney general urging him to free prisoners. “The only way to prevent detention centres becoming hubs for spreading the pandemic and endangering the entire population of the country is to release as many prisoners as possible,” she wrote. Ahdaf Soueif is a highly regarded novelist and Rabab al-Mahdi is a political science professor at the American University of Cairo. Human Rights Watch said earlier this week that an epidemiological “disaster” could be spared if authorities arranged for conditional releases of prisoners. (By AFP)
Morocco: Journalist gets prison sentence for criticizing judge in a tweet
Moroccan journalist and human rights activist Omar Radi said Tuesday he had been handed a four-month suspended sentence for criticising a judge in a tweet. A court in the Casablanca district of Ain Sebaa also ordered Radi to pay a fine of 500 dirhams ($52), said the journalist, who reported the verdict in a tweet as courts in Morocco are closed to the public under measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus. “I had expected the trial to be scrapped. It is an attack on my freedom of expression,” Radi told AFP, adding that he will appeal the verdict. The ruling was immediately criticised by Amnesty International, which urged Moroccan authorities to quash the sentence.
“Even though today’s verdict means Radi won’t serve time in prison, he should never have been put on trial in the first place or sentenced for expressing peaceful views on social media,” Amnesty’s regional director Heba Morayef said in a statement. “This sentence reinforces the message that anyone in Morocco who stands up for human rights will be punished.”
In April last year, Radi criticised judge Lahcen Tolfi after he upheld sentences of up to 20 years in jail against leaders of a protest movement that rocked the country’s north in 2016 and 2017. Radi was detained briefly in December and charged with “insulting magistrates” before being released following a social media outcry over his arrest. (AFP)
Egypt cracks down on foreign journalists for their reporting on Covid19
Cairo, March 17, 2020 – Egypt revoked the press credentials of a journalist for The Guardian and censured The New York Times Cairo bureau chief on Tuesday over “bad faith” reporting on the country’s coronavirus cases. “The correspondents’ rush to promote incorrect data does not justify them relying on an unpublished… and scientifically unrecognised study,” the State Information Service (SIS) said in a statement. “It shows their intentional bad faith to harm Egyptian interests,” said the SIS, which is responsible for foreign media accreditation.
The statement followed an article by British journalist Ruth Michaelson published Sunday in The Guardian citing Canadian epidemiologists who estimated Egypt’s COVID-19 infections had surpassed 19,000. The SIS also denounced tweets by The New York Times Cairo bureau chief Declan Walsh citing the same figures. Walsh later deleted the tweets following a backlash from Egyptians online.
The North African country has officially reported 166 COVID-19 cases and four deaths, including two Germans and two Egyptians. Michaelson and Walsh declined to comment. A Guardian spokesperson told AFP: “We regret the reports coming out of Egypt regarding the alleged ‘banning’ of the Guardian or our reporter. “We have offered the Egyptian government opportunity to comment and respond to our reporting in the normal way.”
Authorities in Cairo have warned of tough measures, including jail terms, for anyone who spreads false information concerning the virus. On Tuesday, police arrested a “Muslim Brotherhood member” for allegedly publishing false information about the death toll of the virus. Egypt is the world’s third worst jailer of journalists, according to rights group Committee to Protect Journalists, and has deported foreign journalists in recent years.