Six members of the online Egyptian satirical group Atfal al-Shawarea (or “Street Children”) were arrested over the course of early May after uploading numerous satirical videos to YouTube and Facebook, mocking the current Egyptian regime.
Charges range from “religious contempt” to ‘incitement to participate in demonstrations and gatherings”, with additional accusations of using the Internet to promote terrorist ideas.
The members of the satirical group, range from 19 to 25 years old, could face sentences ranging from three to five years if convicted. The youngest member, Ezz El-Din Khaled, is currently released on bail whilst charges are pending.
In response to these charges Tariq al-Awadi, the lawyer representing the group, said in a statement to Al-Monitor:
“The young men of Street Children have been accused of releasing videos that insult the state, inciting gatherings and protests. That’s despite the fact that there is no such thing as a crime called ‘inciting gathering or protests'”.
“Street Children” produced their first video on January 7th of this year, mocking religious figures on television. The band’s co-ordinator Mohamed Adel, said that this has led to their first lawsuit, citing “contempt of religion”.
It is thought that these arrests are in response to the latest two videos: “Sisi is my President“, and “Ubdah al-bayada“. The videos have drawn widespread attention with over 1.5 million views. Though the videos are still available online, the group’s popular Facebook account was taken down.
A social media campaign was launched by thousands of Egyptians to protest the arrest under the hashtag “Freedom for Street Children” (#الحرية_لأطفال_الشوارع). The protesters post “selifes” of themselves and ask the government: “Does a mobile phone camera shake you?”.
The arrest of “Street Children” marks the continuous crackdown on freedom of expression in Egypt in recent years. In January 2016, cartoonist Islam Gawish was arrested in his office for “insulting the regime”, followed in February by five year prison sentences handed to three teens for uploading a video mocking Islamic extremists.
According to the Freedom House’s 2015 report, the Freedom of the Net status in Egypt is marked “Not Free”. A number of recent laws have been introduced by the new regime which hinder free speech. During 2015, two Internet users have been imprisoned for “insulting religion online” and LGBT users were arrested over YouTube videos for “inciting debauchery”. As bloggers and social media users are under risk of being arrested, self-censorship in Egypt has risen, substantially impacting freedom of expression online in the country.