Wednesday,15 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1281, (4 - 10 February 2016)
Wednesday,15 August, 2018
Issue 1281, (4 - 10 February 2016)

Ahram Weekly

A licence to poke fun

The brief detention of cartoonist Islam Gawish reignites questions over Egypt’s commitment to freedom of expression, writes Mohamed Abdel-Baky

Al-Ahram Weekly

On Monday the public prosecutor ordered the release of cartoonist Islam Gawish, 26, after he was briefly detaining for allegedly running a website without a licence.

Gawish’s cartoons, poking fun at government officials and public figures, have attracted 1.6 million fans on Facebook. His detention once again focussed attention on restrictions placed on freedom of speech in Egypt.

Shortly before his arrest, Gawish published a cartoon in which MP Mortada Mansour was portrayed standing next to a torturer and advising him to lash his victim “gently”.

President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi has voiced concern over the way the police handled the arrest of Gawish.

“There are many decisions taken that could make me, and many Egyptians, uncomfortable,” Al-Sisi said in reference to Gawish’s arrest.

“Gawish’s cartoons do not upset me. I don’t get upset when people disagree with me. People are different, and it is unrealistic to expect them to agree about every single issue,” Al-Sisi told Orbit network’s “Cairo Today” talk show in a phone interview on Monday.

In a statement released following the cartoonist’s arrest on Sunday the Interior Ministry said Gawish had been detained for working as a graphic designer on the unlicenced news website Egypt News Network (ENN).

Police arrested Gawish during a raid on ENN’s offices. It later transpired they had a warrant only for the detention of the website’s founder, Fayed Fouad.

“The owner of ENN, Fayed Fouad, runs an unlicenced website, which is prohibited by the Communications Law. He has not received permission from the Authority of Information Technology and has violated intellectual property right regulations by using a pirated version of computer software,” the Ministry of Interior said.

Following his release, Gawish told ONTV local news channel that he had been arrested by security forces because the owner of ENN was not in the office at the time of the police raid.

“I refused to sign a statement saying I was the manager of ENN. I just work there as a graphic designer. There were no formal charges brought against me,” he said.

In ordering Gawish’s release, Nasr City’s public prosecutor issued a statement saying Gawish’s name was absent from the arrest warrant.

The investigations presented to the prosecutor did not include the name of Gawish, nor did they contain any evidence that the website was implicated in spreading false information, said the prosecutor.

Gawish’s arrest prompted widespread criticism from cartoonists, journalists and political activists.

“Gawish’s arrest follows a string of raids on cultural and human rights institutions. Such actions threaten the right to free expression as guaranteed by constitutional Article 67,” said the Egyptian Organisation of Human Rights.

Articles 47 and 67 of the 2014 Constitution guarantee the right of artists to express themselves freely and prohibit the government from enforcing state censorship by arresting artists.

A statement posted on Facebook, signed by eight political parties and 50 activists, accused the government of “restricting freedom of opinion and expression”.

“The targeting of free thinkers who wish for nothing more than to live in a country that respects freedom of opinion and expression, as enshrined in the constitution, has to end,” said the statement.

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