HRW demands release of young satirical group members

Thursday 23-06-2016 04:07 PM

A composite image made up of hundreds of selfies posted in support of the Atfal Shawarei group - Facebook photo

CAIRO, Jun 23 (Aswat Masriya) – Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on Egyptian authorities to drop their investigation into the conduct of young satirical group members known by 'Street Children' and release four of them who have been detained for over a month.

The six-member group, known as "Atfal al–Shawarei" in Arabic, films mostly satirical, selfie-style videos that tackle different social phenomena. Their last video directly poked fun at the president and his supporters reaching more than a million views.

The prosecution accused the members of joining a group that aims to "resist the fundamental principles of the state", incite against authorities, broadcast false news and incite the overthrow of the regime.

On Jun 20, the East Cairo Public Prosecution sent the case to the Supreme State Security Prosecution, claiming it was out of its jurisdiction.

In a statement published on Thursday, HRW said that the prosecution was relying heavily on a two-page National Security Agency report on Street Children written on May 6. The report cites "trusted confidential sources" who classified the group as "instigators" who "distort the words of some national songs and replace them with verbal abuse against the state."

A warrant was granted to raid and inspect the men's houses and arrest them solely based on this memo, HRW added.

Their lawyer, Mahmoud Othman, told HRW that the accusations that the four men are facing carry a possible five-year prison sentence. The prosecution also threatened to use terrorism charges, which might lead to longer sentences.

HRW mentioned that the group could face possible accusations of contempt of religion, which have been used more frequently by prosecutors in recent months.

"This kind of blanket repression leaves young people with few outlets to express themselves or joke about their daily hardship," Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director Nadim Houry said.

“Upholding human rights and free speech is the best way for al-Sisi to begin to repair the government’s relationship with them [youth],” Houry said.

Commenting on Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Egypt is a party, the United Nations Human Rights Committee stressed that "the mere fact that forms of expression are considered to be insulting to a public figure is not sufficient to justify the imposition of penalties."

The group members first got together in theatre workshops. Since then they have developed a passion for performing in what they call the "street theatre" as they use their mobile phones to spontaneously film their art pieces in the streets.

Ezzedin Khaled Mohamed, 19, is the youngest in the group and the first to have been arrested on May 8. He was later released on a bail of EGP 10,000.

Two days later, Security forces arrested Mohamed Dessouky, Mohamed Adel, Mohamed Gabr, and Mohamed Yehia and are currently detained in Cairo's Heliopolis police station.

Most recently, their detention was renewed on June 18 for 15 more days.

The remaining member, Mostafa Zein, is under investigation but has not been arrested, according to HRW. 

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