Egyptian Gov't Arrests Journalist Who Exposed Brutality; Will Use Social Media Suspensions As Evidence Against Him

from the moderated-right-into-a-prison-sentence dept

As in any country, the limits of free speech are determined by the ruling party. While we have a Constitution that (mostly) holds our representatives at bay, many countries only pay lip service to rights they have previously declared inviolable. Egypt’s government has long suppressed dissent and strangled communications. It deployed an internet kill switch in 2011, cutting off access to millions of Egyptians. A regime change followed and the former president was fined for nuking the country’s internet access.

Despite this power shift, nothing much changed. The current government cares no more for dissent and criticism than the previous one. Egyptian journalist Wael Abbas, who exposed police brutality and government torture, has provided his fellow residents an invaluable service: an unfiltered, ground-level view of government atrocities. His work even resulted in the rare conviction of Cairo police officers.

But he’s fought censorship at home — as well as abroad — every step of the way. YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter have all suspended his accounts, supposedly for policy violations. Most of these were reversed after US activists intervened on his behalf, but his accounts are always just another perceived violation away from being shut down permanently.

And that’s just on the US side. Egypt’s government has tried to silence him on the homefront, convicting him in 2010 for “providing telecommunications service to the public without permission of the authorities.” That was under the previous regime — the one that deployed an internet kill switch to disrupt the communications of its many critics and opponents.

The new regime, as noted above, is no better. As Jillian York reports for the EFF, Abbas has been detained by Egyptian police, apparently for the crime of exposing government misdeeds.

Abbas was taken at dawn on May 23 by police to an undisclosed location, according to news reports which quote his lawyer, Gamal Eid. The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) reported that Abbas was not shown a warrant or given a reason for his arrest. He appeared in front of state security yesterday and was questioned and ordered by prosecutors to be held for fifteen days. According to the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE), Abbas was charged with “involvement in a terrorist group”, “spreading false news” and “misuse of social networks.”

The details of the charges really don’t matter. Much like “resisting arrest,” the charges are catch-all crimes meant to show the charged the importance of kowtowing to public displays of power. Unfortunately, the prosecution — if it evens needs the help — will be using actions taken by US social media companies as evidence against Abbas.

It seems clear that the messaging around Abbas’ detention is that his arrest was connected to his posts on Facebook and Twitter, and that the prosecution and media are using his suspension by these services as part of the evidence for his guilt.

This is more than merely unfortunate. US social media platforms have played a part in anti-government uprisings around the world. In some cases, platforms have exercised caution when dealing with accounts caught in the middle of government violence, taking extra steps to protect the humans behind pseudonymous accounts. But Abbas has received none of these protections and his documentation of government brutality has resulted in multiple suspensions. The self-proclaimed guardians of worldwide free speech are providing evidence to government censors with their sometimes careless moderation efforts. When you treat certain content as offensive and treat it with blanket moderation policies, you strip the “offensive” content of its context. In cases like this, blanket moderation could mean the difference between freedom and a lengthy prison sentence. If social media platforms want to continue to operate in countries where governments are openly oppressive, they need to do a much better job protecting those who expose government abuse.

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Companies: facebook, twitter, youtube

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Comments on “Egyptian Gov't Arrests Journalist Who Exposed Brutality; Will Use Social Media Suspensions As Evidence Against Him”

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Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

You call that EVIDENCE? LOL

So social media accounts were taken down with the ‘policy violation’ equivalent of a DMCA (accusation with any corroboration) and THAT is evidence in a court case? Yes I understand that the court is in Egypt and they don’t have the same kind of protections that other countries do. Never the less, their ‘evidence’ should still pass some level of a laugh test, even if the sense of humor is somewhat stilted.

In a regime as authoritarian as Egypt’s, one would think they could come up with something better. I mean, actual straight forward lies would be better.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: You call that EVIDENCE? LOL

and that is what the usa has to look forward to as a result of the current shift in political landscape. It is interesting to note that a majority of the usa population does not agree with most of what their representatives are doing to them and the world. If this continues the shit will hit the fan at some point, perhaps this is what they want.

sumgai (profile) says:

Re: Re: Techdirt continues ignore Israel shot 60 DEAD wounds over 1000.

Whle I can’t read the OP (the “Click Here” isn’t actually a link), I can guess from the above response what happened. It would appear that we now have a ‘bullhorn-important’ messenger in our midst.

Listen friend…. Calling out Techdirt for not reporting political news that’s ‘technology-deficient’ is like telling PETA that Kelloggs is being cruel to Tony the Tiger, and hoping to sell tickets to the ensuing hilarity. It doesn’t play well in Peoria, I’m here to tell ya.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Techdirt continues ignore Israel shot 60 DEAD wounds over 1000.

Your mention of the ongoing Israeli atrocities is completely irrelevant considering that this story is about a journalist who was arrested for reporting news. And no, it was not about Tommy Robinson, the British Youtube “journalist” whose arrest and imprisonment this past week was slapped with a media blackout order from the Crown Court.

Though perhaps Techdirt could have published something cheeky like this:

But that raises another question: Does Techdirt obey media blackout orders?

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: 8-Ball says... 'not likely'

But that raises another question: Does Techdirt obey media blackout orders?

Any such order from a non-US court would probably result in a nice article that could be boiled down to, ‘Yeah, no’. An order from a US court I’ve no doubt would be fought, though it might result in articles drawing attention to the fact that someone is trying to silence them.

I’m not aware of anyone going that far, though history would seem to suggest that it would not work out very well for whoever tried it.

Anonymous Coward says:

‘ YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter’

let’s face it, these 3 and others are as gutless and corrupt as the rest, always doing as governments tell them to do with no thought or care for whether what has been posted is true and correct or not. their main concern is money, and the loss of some if they go along with reporting of the truth!!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Don't need a reason

Exactly. It is a kangaroo court where evidence is going to be one-sided and heavily edited to skew everything in their favor. The Kim Dotcom trial was much the same. His following of the laws were used against him when they made up a conspiracy to commit crimes crime and pretended it was legal and binding. They even got the government of NZ to go along with it. The current administration was not part of the plan though and it is falling apart without support from the White House.

GEMont (profile) says:

A more likely outcome...

“…could mean the difference between freedom and a lengthy prison sentence.”

That’s assuming he is not found in 12 days, hanging from his belt in his cell.
Nothing stifles undesired speech as well as a good old-fashioned faked suicide, since there is no way to prove he was murdered, and the action eliminates the possibility of martyrdom as a bonus.
Pretty much standard operational procedure for Assholes In Power.

Coyne Tibbets (profile) says:

The problem with mandated moderation

This case perfectly exemplifies the problems with mandated moderation.

Companies rarely get into moderation on their own, because moderation is expensive. Instead we have our governments insisting that companies must moderate content, creating laws with a furrowed brow concern that we were warned would be the father of so many bad measures.

First comes moderation, then comes censorship, then comes the use of the censorship as justification for stronger penalties.

Censorship is always a weapon of those who are in power, and it is always used as a weapon against the downtrodden. It does not matter whether the censorship is overt or comes through the back door in the form of mandated moderation.

Enthusiasts of FOSTA/SESTA, and enemies of CDA 230, could learn a thing or two from this case if they were paying attention.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Still Nothing on Tommy Robinson

Only after the rest of the world got the UK to lift it’s ban on all media coverage of it, on the threat of jail time on less about reporting on it . You would think it would be lead on all major network coverage .

Sort of like how the media Jumped all over Colin Noir for a 4 minute video that most media outlets didn’t even completely watch before the all rose in high holy terror on the idea of restricting the media .
Amazing how they will defend the first but willingly throw the second under the bus at all costs .
So much for all equal under the law ……less it’s their law .

You would think a major online news outlet that supports free speech would be all over it to enlighten its readers as to what is happening to public figures that go against the grain .

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Still Nothing on Tommy Robinson

Becoming a public nuisance is an age-old strategy for raising awareness of an important issue (in Tommy Robinson’s case, that British police have for years turned a blind eye to the organized criminal gangs that are running child prostitution rings in the UK because they don’t want to be accused of racism)

It’s the same reason why Black Lives Matter routinely blocks roads and highways, because here in the US, simply talking about something is generally not a seditious or illegal act, so in order to get people’s attention, more extreme measures are needed which are not necessary in a non-free-speech nation like the UK.

As far as Techdirt “enlightening its readers” as a goal, I would agree that reporting on free speech issues in first-world nations is probably much more of a public service to its (presumed) readership that reporting on free speech issues in 3rd-world nations that US taxpayers have little connection with. In the US, the average “man/woman on the street” is probably well aware that countries like Egypt or Burma are not free societies, but have no earthly idea that jokingly giving a Nazi salute or uploading a cellphone video of a public street in the UK can get that person thrown in prison for a long time.

And as far as the “situation” in Israel (previous ‘hidden’ comment) I’m sure that Mike Masnick is well aware that he stands to lose a lot of financial support (and perhaps his career) if Techdirt were to, for instance, dare to report on anti-Israel things like the abuse of a Palestinian journalist in the same way that this article reports on the abuse of an Egyptian journalist.

That One Guy (profile) says:


As always you continue to entertain with your hilariously mistaken belief that you have any decision making power over what TD covers, and/or that they are somehow wrong if they don’t cover what you want them to.

If you really consider it such an important topic you are more than welcome to write up an article or ten covering it and host it on your own site, which I’m sure would get just all the traffic.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

US social media platforms have played a part in anti-government uprisings around the world.

You say that as if it’s a good thing. And maybe, from a certain ideological perspective, it is a good thing simply on principle. But objectively, do we have even a single case where these uprisings led to better conditions for the people of the countries involved? It certainly didn’t for the Egyptians!

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The eventual outcomes might not have been the best(as I understand it the US revolution is very much an outlier there), but I’m fairly sure that people were not revolting against their governments because they were bored and needed something to do.

Yes the outcomes were bad, but the alternative of just continuing on, same as usual were considered bad enough that it was considered worth the risk, and that social media platforms played a part is, I would say, a good thing, because it helped give the public in those areas the chance for change.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Revolutions

Curiously this is a well known dictum in Counter-Insurrection, the first order of COIN is good governance. If the people are suffering and have a legitimate gripe then they’re easy to radicalize.

I’m not entirely sure if the rate of rampage killers per capita of the US is disproportionately high in comparison to the rest of the world (it’s just a hard stat to find), but if it were, that might be a symptom of a discontent and easily-radicalized population.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Revolutions

People’s complaints being "legitimate" or not has absolutely nothing to do with their level of discontent. It’s all about what they FEEL they are entitled to — whether rightly or wrongly. Of course, any neo-Marxist revolutionary worth his salt will try to identify the issue that can be most effectively used to stir up discontent even when there was none existing previously. People need to be taught that they’re victims, taught to be angry, taught that they’re being deprived of something that’s rightfully theirs. And when all their battles are won and all the things that they were angry about and fought to change no longer exist, then new things need to be invented for them to be angry about all over again. The "revolution" never really ends, especially when there are a lot of people who make their living as polemicists and fomenters, as we cann’t just expect them to simply hang up their gloves after winning the fight and go into another occupation.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Revolutions

When people are going hungry, when they are overworked or underpaid, when people are homeless or losing their homes, when people are disappearing, when people are losing family to the brutality of the authorities, then they’re going to be discontented and no amount of hand-waving is going to cease the flow of recruits into terrorist groups.

If course, some of the aristocracy is going to harumph about how the peonage feel entitled. That nothing they could want could ever be legitimate, but all such rhetoric does is speed the flow of recruits into terrorist groups. Apathetic, out-of-touch aristocrats actually serve the rebellion.

Discontent is the opposite of contentment, when people are generally content with their lives, they don’t join the resistance. When their lives are miserable, they will join even groups that don’t directly serve their own causes.

While we can argue the gray-zones, where only small numbers are miserable, or people are not content but not willing to discard the meager life they have, historical cases of unrest tend to show things have to be pretty bad before the resistance gets organized in large numbers, or starts acting violently.

And, yes, some in the aristocracy will always protest that the peasants complain too much and should just shut up and go back to work for cheap, and they will continue to argue that way even as they’re positioned into the guillotine.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Yes the outcomes were bad, but the alternative of just continuing on, same as usual were considered bad enough that it was considered worth the risk

By who? A lot less than "everyone in the country" actually participated in these things, but the consequences of their actions ended up affecting everyone, usually negatively.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Keep people miserable and they'll spit in your beer.

Resistance needs support of about three to five percent of the population to be effective, and if the policies of the state are such that they keep a lot of people miserable that’s not a difficult number to have.

Much as neo-Marxist revolutionaries depend on inflating matters of discontent to incite unrest, the state’s supporters often also depend on creating the notion that things are as they should be, such as to say those who are miserable are so because of their own poor life choices, rather than because of circumstances that could be addressed by the state. It’s their own fault is a common way for the state to dismiss malcontents.

Of course, it’s not just anarchists and terrorists that push for revolt, but also organized crime, who seek to move in and provide services to which the state is supposed to retain a monopoly. When the state fails to provide those services (e.g. justice, defense, general welfare), then market forces can incite market responses that are later interpreted as resistance or revolt.

Sociology is fun!

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Keep people miserable and they'll spit in your beer.

Sure, and I’m not saying that the previous Egyptian or other Arab Spring-related regimes were actually good. The people who revolted had a good reason for wanting to get out from under those regimes, and I’d never deny that.

What I’m saying is that when they did so, they failed to actually improve the problematic conditions they were objecting to. In many cases, they even made the situation worse overall. It’s like the old saying, “meet the new boss, same as the old boss,” but applied to government. In light of this, I am asking, why should we treat the revolts as a good thing when they didn’t improve things by any objective metric I’m aware of?

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Keep people miserable and they'll spit in your beer.

Agreed. Revolutionary movements are not particularly good at consequentalist decision-making.

As a species we’ve invested a lot more energy to putting down revolutions and propping up current regimes than we have in developing ways making revolutions actually work for the people. Even in the French revolution they had to go through The Terror and then Napoleon had to declare himself emperor (reestablishing a dictatorship) before decreeing the Napoleonic Code, a rare example of benevolent dictatorship in action.

This is one of those places where we don’t have good answers yet. And it might be a good answer to develop. If there were methods by which to consistently turn a revolution into a bona fide peoples’ government, it might encourage current states to acknowledge and address causes of common discontent.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Keep people miserable and they'll spit in your beer.

As a species we’ve invested a lot more energy to putting down revolutions and propping up current regimes than we have in developing ways making revolutions actually work for the people.

Well yeah. That’s one of the most fundamental tenets of civilization: stability. Humanity has always put a lot of work into taming uncertainty and making life predictable, because that usually benefits more people (and benefits them more strongly) than the chaos of upending the status quo does. Sometimes there are exceptions–Techdirt’s frequent coverage of "creative destruction" comes to mind–but it’s human nature to crave stability, and there are good reasons behind that, many of which remain as valid today as they did when our ancestors first built walled settlements to keep the predators out.

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