Young Facebook activists arrested in Egypt

Authorities arrest members of a Facebook group that aims to be a new political movement in the country.

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By  Vineetha Menon Published  August 4, 2008

Egyptian authorities have made their stance on cyberspace's intrusion into society clear with the recent arrest of young Facebook activists at a local beach in Alexandria.

The accused, who were celebrating the anniversary of the Egyptian revolution by singing songs and flying kites, were charged with gathering and inciting citizens to demonstrate in the city.

Tensions began earlier this year when young Egyptians used Facebook to garner support for a textile workers strike in April. Dubbed the 6 April Youth, the group was set up by Esra Abdel Fattah in March who was later detained and freed only after her mother made an appeal to Interior Minister Habib al-Adli.

Members of the group were treated with respect and admiration when they met publicly in Cairo for the first time at a local journalists' syndicate in June. According to the Daily News Egypt, attendees were even reported to have said that the "April 6 youth are the generation that will lead the political arena in the coming era".

This attention did not go unnoticed by authorities who finally closed in on the April 6 youth group, that currently has 72, 292 registered members on Facebook. A video, depicting the youths' celebrations of the Egyptian revolution anniversary in Alexandria, was taken just before the arrests were made.

"A truck packed with central security personnel arrived and arrested 14 of the 30 demonstrators while the rest managed to flee," said Gamal Eid, executive director of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information told Al-Ahram Weekly after meeting with the detainees in custody.

"They were beaten by plain clothes security personnel and taken to Al-Raml Police Station where they were referred to the prosecution which accused them of assembling, hampering traffic, and attempting to topple the regime," Eid added.

Lawyers have said that the custodial remand was unjustified and have filed a note to a public prosecutor to free the prisoners. Almasry Alyoum reported that a number of the detainees' colleagues organized a protest in front of the Syndicate of Journalists, and support is growing with Amnesty International also calling for their immediate release.

Interviewed earlier by Al-Ahram Weekly, Ahmed Maher, one of the founders of the 6 April Youth group who was among the detained activists, said he would continue his Facebook activities despite receiving threats. "What I fear most [after oppressing the activists] is that people might sink back into the perception that getting involved in politics is a really risky business."

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