Social media plays advocate role to defend, fame detainees
Hashtag free maienour on Twitter logo
By NOURHAN MAGDI

CAIRO: Social media websites appear to play the role of advocates for those detained in the wake of the June 30 demonstration and in response to different incidents and decisions that prompted protesters to take to the streets.

There were a large number of detainees whose names went viral on social media even though they were not previously famous to the public and most attained such popularity with the help of a hashtag on Twitter or Facebook page dedicated to them or their cause.

The detainees’ pictures are circulated on Facebook pages with their names, most of which start with “Free [name].” The pages are usually devoted to publish news about the detainee’s, case procedures, upcoming solidarity conferences or protests, and past activities, if they had any, to gain public support.

These pages became important sources of news for stories related to detainees’ cases as reporters use their statements, quotes, and status. Some of the pages were created by the families and friends of the detainees while some were created by neutral supporters to advocate groups who believe in the detainees’ cases.

One of reasons activists are sent behind bars is the 2013 protest law, which was widely denounced for curbing free speech.

The protest law bans any political demonstration that does not have official permission; organizers must request security forces for a license days before any planned gathering.

Prominent Political Activist Alaa Abdel Fatah is one of the activists who faced detention several times over his opposition to the then-ruling system and lately over breaking the protest law.

Abdel Fatah was sentenced on June 11 to prison for 15 years and fine 100,000 EGP over organizing illegal protests. His sentence was condemned by many human rights organizations, who view it as the government’s attempt to eliminate all voices opposing current regime.

Free Alaa Facebook Page was launched on Dec. 13, 2013 and alongside with his sister Mona Seif’s Facebook page and Twitter account with hashtag #FreeAlaa, they are the platform to defend Abdel Fatah and other political prisoners.

The page was launched following Abdel Fatah’s temporary detention on Nov. 28, 2013 over organizing demonstrations outside the Shura Council to oppose including provisions in the new constitution that allowed civilians’ trials before military courts.

There were slogans that promoted on the page in solidarity with the detainees, most of them chanted during protests; “Freedom for Shura Council’s protesters,” “Down with Protest Law,” “Down with military rule.”

Alexandrian activist Mahienour el-Masry was also famous for her role in supporting detainees’ rights and demands of laborers. She is now pending trial over the same charge of violating the protest law.

Both Free Mahienour Facebook page and @freeMahienour Twitter accounts are the mouthpiece of Masry after her case caused public hype. She faced her charges for participating a solidarity protest for Khaled Said, whose brutal death in 2010 in state custody helped spark the January 25 Revolution in 2011.

Updates of Mahienour’s case were published on both accounts, hashtag #FreeMahienour, activists’ pages and on other advocate groups like the Freedom for The Brave Campaign. Those accounts support all the detainees over political reasons, especially those who were wronged Amr Rabie, most of whom were arrested during the third anniversary of January 25 Revolution.

The Freedom for The Brave and the Freedom for Students pages also post news about detained students who were arrested amid erupted clashes during the past few months at universities throughout Egypt. Some were reported to have indiscriminately arrested from streets and not during any protests.

Pictures of detained students and minors with their names were circulated on a large scale via advocate groups’ accounts on social media to inform people with their stories and to gain solidarity with their case.

News about upcoming solidarity conferences and campaigns demanding detained students take their exams were also posted on these accounts.

In another case believed to be restraining freedom of the press, Al Jazeera journalist Abdullah El-Shamy was facing charges of gathering and assaulting police officers. He was detained in Aug. 2013 while covering the dispersal of Rabaa al-Adaweya.

Committed to his hunger strike that exceeded 120 days, Shamy’s case attracted a wide range of audience across the world to support freedom of press.

The recent live updates about Shamy’s case include his health condition and sometimes leaked pictures of him in his. One of the latest photos show him after he lost up to a third of his body weight, streamed on his brother Mosaab’s Facebook page, @abdallahelshamyTwitter account, the hashtag #FreeAbdullah and on Freedom for Abdallah Elshamy Facebook page.

Another hashtag #FreeAJStaff went trending on an international level, aiming to condemn the detention of Shamy and three other detained Al Jazeera journalists as chilling press freedom.

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