Human rights groups estimate that as many as 60 000 political prisoners languish in Egyptian jails under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, which is significantly more than under the previous regime. Freedoms and liberties are waning to the extent that the country has detained a tourist, Mona el-Mazboh, for what it terms ‘incitement to overthrow the ruling system and publishing lies in a Facebook post. el-Mazboh, a Lebanese tourist who posted a video on Facebook complaining of sexual harassment and poor living conditions in Egypt, was arrested last month after her video went viral. She has since been sentenced to eight years in prison, according to reports.
In the ill-advised 10-minute video, Mazboh called Egypt a “son-of-a-bitch country”, adding, “You deserve what Sisi is doing to you; I hope God sends you someone more oppressive than Sisi.” Mazboh, who has been to the country once before, goes on to complain of being sexually harassed by taxi drivers and young men in the street, as well as poor restaurant service during the holy month of Ramadan and an incident in which money was stolen from her during a previous stay.
Due to the social media backlash, and before she was detained, Mazboh posted a recant to this in a follow-up video, saying, “I definitely didn’t mean to offend all Egyptians and never meant to say anything about the country’s political affairs,” she said. “I love all Egyptians and I love this country; that’s why I visited it more than once and I keep coming back.”
Despite her best efforts she was arrested at the airport at the end of her stay and a Cairo court found her guilty of “deliberately broadcasting false rumours which aim to undermine society and attack religions”. She was initially handed down 11 years but the sentence was later reduced to eight and she was fined 10 700 Egyptian pounds (about US$598), reported the state-run Al-Ahram news agency.
Luckily an appeal court will hear the case and possibly overturn the ruling on 29 July, according to Mazboh’s lawyer, Emad Kamal.
“God willing, the verdict will change. With all due respect to the judiciary, this is a severe ruling. It is in the context of the law, but the court was applying the maximum penalty,” he said.
In her defence, Kamal said that Mazboh underwent surgery in 2006 to remove a blood clot from her brain, and it has impaired her ability to control anger. This condition is documented in a medical report he submitted to the court.
A similar instance
According to Arab news, authorities arrested Egyptian activist Amal Fathy in May after she posted an online video regarding a negative experience in and outside a local bank. Fathy railed against what she described as the country’s deteriorating public services and unchallenged sexual harassment.
Amnesty International has called Fathy’s arrest a “new low in Egypt’s crackdown on freedom of expression” and, along with other rights groups, has called for her release.
Egypt’s parliament has been attempting to police social media accounts, blogs and websites. They initially approved a Bill placing sites with 5 000 users and above under the supervision of the country’s top media regulatory body. The body is allowed to take action against these sites should they be found to be disseminating false news, inciting violence or violating the law. The Bill has not been ratified yet.