Egypt: Publisher Hisham Qassem detained after tweeting against Sisi

Egyptian government critic Hisham Qassem was detained after he tweeted ‘I am cleaner than Sisi’, refusing to pay bail for a defamation case.

Egypt’s public prosecution on Monday charged the publisher and government critic Hisham Qassem with insulting police, shortly after a decision to release him on bail in a defamation case, according to a rights watchdog.

Qassem was initially detained on 20 August, in connection with “libel and slander” accusations filed against him by former Labor Minister Kamal Abu Eita, who sued Qassem over purportedly defamatory Facebook posts.

The detention also came a day after Qassem posted a tweet commenting on the arrest of a journalist in relation to the Egyptian private plane carrying millions in cash, fake gold and weapons seized in Zambia earlier this month.

“By God, if they detain half of the country, we’ll still get to the bottom of all of the theft, smuggling and peoples’ money that was on the plane seized in Zambia, as well as the other planes and thefts,” Qassem wrote on 19 August.

The public prosecution decided to release Qassem on bail for 5,000 Egyptian pounds ($165) in the libel and slander case. However, when Qassem refused to pay, the prosecution detained him for a second time on 21 August, on charges of insulting officers.

According to the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, whose lawyers represent Qassem, the prosecution on Monday decided to detain him for four days on charges of “insulting police officers” at the Sayeda Zeinab Police Station in which he was held last week.

In a tweet published on 20 August, Qassem said that he refused to pay the bail money, stating that his detention was unfair and that he would rather remain in detention than pay the bail money. 

“The prosecution will release me if I pay a bail of 5,000 pounds… I am cleaner than Abdel Fattah al Sisi, and all of his men and people. I have decided to not pay the bail and remain imprisoned,” he said in the tweet.

A number of human rights defenders and political activists have called for Qassem’s release, claiming it is politically motivated due to his public anti-government positions.

In an email statement sent out to various media outlets, Samar Elhussieni, an Egyptian human rights defender, warned that Qassem’s detention on defamation charges appears to be “a tool to target and intimidate political opponents”.

“Hisham Qassem has become the target of a widespread defamation campaign by state-affiliated channels since his appointment as Chairman of the Free Liberal Current,” Elhussieni, who is a program’s officer at the Egyptian Human Rights Forum, said.

“He is a vocal political dissident who speaks out against corruption, repression, and failed economic policies that have led to a severe economic crisis in the country,” she added.

Likewise, actor and activist Amr Waked called for releasing Qassem.

Waked wrote in a tweet: “I demand the immediate release of Hisham Qassem, and all prisoners of conscience and politics. It doesn’t matter who you imprison, you are a failure, Sisi.”

Meanwhile, Mohannad Sabry, an Egyptian journalist and researcher, praised Qassem’s decision to refuse to pay the bail money.

“Hisham Qassem is one of the purest and smartest Egyptian political figures I have met. His decision to not pay bail to the regime is not only a fair decision, but also a very smart step in his continuous challenge of those who rule the country with iron and fire,” he wrote on Twitter.