Last Updated: Tue Nov 02, 2010 12:21 pm (KSA) 09:21 am (GMT)

Egypt jails Facebook activists for 'national security'

Social networking site key tool for organizing activism (file)
Social networking site key tool for organizing activism (file)

Police arrested 26 Internet activists in the port of Alexandria and jailed 14 of them for more than two weeks for "threatening national security," a security official said on Thursday.

Around 30 young Egyptians who belong to the "6 April" group on the social networking site Facebook, a group which earlier this year called for a day of protests at rising prices, gathered in Alexandria on Wednesday.

"We were heading for Sidi Beshr beach but a policeman prevented us getting there because we had a large kite painted with the Egyptian flag and we were wearing T-shirts with 'April 6 Movement' on," said Mohammed Abdel Aziz.

He said that in the evening the group was walking along the seafront singing nationalist songs when police arrived and arrested 14 of them, he said.

Detention details

The official confirmed the arrests and said another 12 were detained on Thursday.

The first 14 arrested have been jailed for 15 days under emergency laws for "threatening public security," the official said, while the others are still being questioned.

The arrests "indicate the security agencies are targeting 35 young men and women who are members of the 6th of April group and all attending a trip arranged by the group," the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) said in a statement.

ANHRI tried to contact those detained "but all their mobile phones are turned off, which raises concerns, especially with the well-known practice of torture" where they are being held, it said.

Organizers targeted

In May Ahmed Maher Ibrahim, a 27-year-old civil engineer, who used Facebook to call for a general strike on May 4, President Hosni Mubarak’s 80th birthday, was abducted and beaten by Egyptian security officers, according to Human Rights Watch.

Esra Abdel Fattah, the woman who set up the April 6 group in March calling for protests against price hikes, was detained at the time but freed after her mother made an appeal to Interior Minister Habib al-Adli.

Fattah, 27, was among several people arrested ahead of what was supposed to be a nationwide protest on April 6.

Egyptian police took her from a Cairo coffee shop a week before the planned day of action. Her Facebook group had 64,000 members, but observation of the day of protest was sporadic. Many Egyptians heeded the
activists’ call to stay home and traffic was noticeably lighter in Cairo.

Street protests focused on the Nile Delta city of Mahalla, where three people were killed by police, including a15-year old boy, after clashes erupted when demonstrators pulled down posters of President Hosni Mubarak.

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