A prominent liberal Egyptian intellectual has just been arrested and charged by state prosecutors for messages he posted on Twitter last June. On Sunday, Amr Hamzawy was charged alongside two dozen other defendants — including other liberals, Islamists and former President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood — for the crime of insulting the judiciary and defaming its members to spread hate.
Hamzawy sent out his tweets in early June 2013 after an Egyptian court convicted employees of several Western-backed groups of plotting to destabilize Egypt and receiving illegal funding. Three of five groups — the National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute and Freedom House — are financed by the U.S. government and are strictly mandated to promote democracy. The court had ruled that the U.S. funding was "a form of control and dominance and is considered a soft colonialism that is less costly than military arms," and accused the U.S. of trying to "to shake the security and stability of the receiving countries that are meant to be weakened and dismantled."
In response, Hamzawy called the ruling "shocking," sending out the following tweets:
Which, thanks to Google Translate, roughly translate to:
Although this crime of insulting the judiciary is nothing new, the charges were filed just a day after Egypt adopted a new constitution that gives a military-led government extraordinary powers, possibly signalling how the new government plans to crack down on all "offenders."
The case involves roughly 25 politicians, media personalities, activists and lawyers being accused of insulting the judiciary in public, on television or through social media at various times over the past three years. Morsi is involved in the case, but also faces separate charges of "inciting murder of his opponents, conspiring with foreign groups and organizing jailbreaks" — all of which can carry the death penalty.
Though grouped with many other defendants, Hamzawy, a fairly innocuous columnist and liberal, has an interesting case because his simple Twitter messages have landed him in such hot water.
"This is just another example of the government trying to silence all criticism and dissent in Egypt right now, whether it is Islamist or liberal," Samer S. Shehata, an expert on Egyptian politics at the University of Oklahoma, told the New York Times. "Anyone who would question the current rulers is subject to this kind of persecution."
In response, Hamzawy said in newspaper columns, "I am paying the price of being a true liberal."