Astonishingly, Egyptian blogger Ahmed Anwar has again found himself in court on charges expected to have been dropped with overturn of the Morsi regime. Wednesday's court appearance stems from a short spoof film Anwar produced in March 2012, poking fun at the Egyptian police for having given an award to the famous Lebanese dancer and singer Marwa. "There were these photos of her winning the award - they gave her the copy of the Koran and a sort of trophy..." Anwar told Human Rights First. "I wanted to make a film out of it."
The six-minute film, created in just under a day by Anwar and his friend, quickly became a YouTube hit, today with over 54,000 views. It includes real footage of dancing policemen as well as a mock interview with a potential police recruit where Anwar interviews his friend using a feather duster as a microphone telling him that traditional dancing was now a requirement for joining the police academy.
Anwar carried on making sarcastic videos about the Egyptian authorities for several months. A half-year later, Anwar's films drew the attention of the authorities when police under the Morsi government began to question his neighbors about his activities. "They started to ask my internet service providers about me, they questioned people at my dad's work" Anwar told us.
Then, in March 2013, six months after the questions began and a year after initially making the film, police came to Anwar's house looking for him. The Egyptian Ministry of Interior had complained to the Prosecutor's office about the film. While Anwar was not home at the time, he was charged on three counts, which he explains as: "insulting the Ministry, abuse of the use of the internet, and a sort of 'deliberately provoking the people' charge."
The prosecution issued an arrest warrant for Anwar and held an initial hearing on March 2013, which he did not attend for fear he would be jailed while his case made its way through the court system. The trial was then postponed until June 1, at which point the District Court decided it lacked specific jurisdiction and sent the case to the Economic court where it sat silently until yesterday. "I'd hoped that the end of the Morsi government would also mean the end of the case against me," he told Human Rights First. The court adjourned for a verdict on January 22.
Anwar's case is not unique--he was among the notable group of journalists and social media activists targeted under the Egyptian law that allows for anyone to make a complaint to the public prosecutor about anything they see or hear on the media. According to local media experts, from when President Morsi took office in June 2012 to March 2013 more cases were brought against journalists and subsequently pursued by the prosecutor than were brought in the whole 30 years under former President Mubarak.
The reopening of Anwar's case by the military-backed government is reflective of a surprising and disturbing trend in Egypt. Many expected that with the ouster of Morsi by July 2013 coup led by Army Chief General Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, prosecutions targeting freedom of expression such as Anwar's would be dropped. This optimism has unfortunately proven to be short lived. Yesterday's ruling military-backed government is following the footsteps of its predecessor by continuing to pursue the cases against Anwar and others for their critical commentary. Cases including those against political satirist Bassem Youssef whose popular news program was pulled from the air and is now the subject of a state-backed investigation, Ahmed Abu Derra who was arrested under charges of spreading false news about the army , and Hatem Abul Nourwho was sentenced for impersonating an army officer over the telephone.
Molly Hofsommer contributed to this post.