Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Egyptian Blogger Forced to Shut Down

On Monday, Reporters Without Borders published a press release condemning months of harassment of a 42-year-old Egyptian blogger named Hala Helmy Botros by the authorities in Qina (near Luxor), in central Egypt. Botros was forced to close down her blog Aqbat Bela Hodood (Copts Without Borders) about the persecution of the Christian Coptic minority, and to stop writing on this subject for other websites. Botros wrote under the pseudonym of Hala El-Masry. She is now the target of a judicial investigation and is banned from leaving the country.

According to the Reporters Without Borders release, Botros had accused the political authorities and police in articles, interviews and video reports online of complicity in the attacks against Copts on January 19, 2006 when they tried to restore their church in the village of Edyssat (near Luxor) (see for more information). The release goes on:

Her posts clearly irritated the authorities as first her phone line was cut and then her Internet connection, forcing her to go to her father's house to continue posting. The authorities also placed her under surveillance. One night, her father was beaten by two strangers who told him, "This is a present from your daughter."

When he went to the police station to report this, the police got him to sign a blank sheet to which they added a statement in which he appeared to accuse her of being responsible for the attack. Botros reacted by filing a complaint against the police officer concerned, Mahmoud Sabri, accusing him of bringing false charges, but the case was not pursued by the authorities.

On 15 June, she tried to fly to the United States to attend a conference about the Copts in Newark, New Jersey, but the authorities removed her from the airplane before it took off, on the grounds that she was banned from the leaving the country. She was questioned for several hours at the airport and ordered to report to a state security court in Cairo on 25 June.
Security agents raided her home on the night of 22 June with the apparent intention of arresting her, but she was in Cairo at the time. Her husband was forced to go with them and to sign a statement guaranteeing that she would report to the court three days later.

Botros went to the court with two lawyers, Mamdouh Ramzy and Naguib Gobraeil, on 25 June. She was questioned about her Internet posts and accused of "spreading false news" and of "disrupting social harmony between the Muslim and Christian communities." She was released the same day after paying 3,000 Egyptian pounds (400 euros) in bail, but was questioned again the next day.

Fearing for her safety and the safety of her family, Botros finally decided to shut down her blog. She is being watched by plain-clothes police, her telephone is tapped and her e-mail is being monitored.

As I viewed Botros' weblog again this morning, I was saddened. It seemed so empty. All content has been removed apart from a few links to a few Coptic and music websites. Her weblog stands as a monument to freedom of expression. To publicly expose the Egyptian government's abysmal record of denying justice to her Christian population took courage. She must have known of the risk. I do not condemn her for now backing off; she has fought a good fight and has paid a price for speaking up in a country where such a basic human right is considered treasonous. It is now up to the rest of us to continue to be a voice for Egypt's persecuted Christians.


Anonymous said...

this probably isn't an appropriate place to ask this, but I'm studying abroad in Cairo this fall semester (I leave on Monday) and I've been trying to see if I could meet up with any "workers" or "friends" for fellowship and encouragement while I'm there. I don't really know anyone at all in Cairo and if there's a way I could help out or encourage anyone while I'm there, that'd be awesome. I'm studying Arabic, so an Arabic-speaking congregation would be fine with me if you know of one...

Anonymous said...

-Matthew Loftus
scribere at juno d0t com

Glenn Penner said...

Sent you the info to your email account. Best regards on your time in Cairo