News ID: 153772
Published: 1030 GMT June 23, 2016

Human Rights Watch urges Egypt to free comedians critical of Sisi

Human Rights Watch urges Egypt to free comedians critical of Sisi

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on the Egyptian government to drop charges against four members of a satirical street group who mocked a controversial maritime border deal with Saudi Arabia.

In a statement on Thursday, Nadim Houry of the New York-based rights group demanded that the Egyptian government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi shield human rights and free speech in the North African country.   

"This kind of blanket repression leaves young people with few outlets to express themselves or joke about their daily hardships," the statement said, adding, “Upholding human rights and free speech is the best way for el-Sisi to begin to repair the government's relationship” with the country’s young people.

Five of the group's six members were detained last month, after they posted video clips on social media which mocked Sisi and criticized a deal signed with Saudi Arabia in April, which would hand over the control of two strategic Red Sea islands to Riyadh.

One was later released on bail. The sixth member is in hiding.

According to their lawyer Mahmoud Othman, the comedians are accused of using social media networks to incite protests, insulting state institutions and the overthrow of the regime.

"There is no evidence to support any of the accusations they face," said Othman on Thursday, adding, "They have no political affiliations of any kind. The government in this case is essentially seeking to erode their creative."

"Have we reached the stage where the government is so scared and weak that it's prepared to jail young men for a satirical video?"

Legal experts say the jailed members, if convicted, could get up to 10 years in prison and a USD 1,000 fine.

Sisi's government has eroded much of the freedom won by the 2011 uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak. 

The six-man group, known as Awlad Shawarea, or "Street Children," has a large social media following as it shoots selfie-style clips on the streets that mostly deal with social and political issues. 

The developments also come as an Egyptian court has recently voided the maritime border deal with Saudi Arabia.

The ruling is a setback for Sisi, who had asked Egyptians to end the controversy over the islands deal, which was announced during a visit to Cairo by the Saudi king.

Egyptians, who have considered the islands to be their land for decades, say Sisi is selling their territory with a humiliating concession to a wealthy ally. Critics also say the agreement violates the Egyptian constitution.

Egyptian courts have given jail terms to hundreds of people for taking part in the protests against the handover of the islands to the Persian Gulf kingdom.

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