Sisi regime continues to prosecute independent publishers on ‘terror’ charges

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The Giza Criminal Court has ordered the renewal of the detention of the publisher Yahya Khalaf Allah, founder of Dar Yaqeen for Production and Distribution, for a period of 45 days, accusing him of “joining a group established in violation of the provisions of the law, the purpose of which is to call for the suspension of the provisions of the constitution and laws and to prevent state institutions and public authorities from carrying out its business, and false news about the political and economic situation.”

This is a continuation of the Egyptian regime’s policy of restricting publishers, independent writers, and opponents, as part of its major campaign to stamp out freedom of thought and expression throughout the country.

Targeting independent publishers and libraries

This is not the first time Yahya Khalafallah has been targeted because of his work in the publishing field. He was previously arrested in 2014 and 2015 for his activities in connection with Case 1155 of 2014 Qasr Al-Nil misdemeanour, and Case No. 8611 of 2015 Qasr Al-Nil misdemeanour. He was arrested again in December 2019, then forcibly disappeared him for nearly two months before he appeared before the prosecution in February 2020, accused of “joining a terror group and spreading false news.” Yahya is close to completing two years in pretrial detention without being tried or released, while his family and relatives suffer greatly trying to support him. Khalafallah is not the only publisher behind bars. He was preceded by Khaled Lotfy, director of the Tanmia Library, who was arrested in April 2018, in connection with distributing an Arabic edition of the book The Angel issued by the Lebanese Arab House of Science Publishers.

The book The Angel is based on the Israeli account of the role of Ashraf Marwan, the husband of the late President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s daughter, and the information secretary of the late President Sadat, who is working as a spy for Tel Aviv, while the official Egyptian version considers him a “patriotic man.” Lotfi was brought before a military court, which accused him of “disclosing military secrets and broadcasting false news, statements and information,” and sentenced him to five years in prison, a verdict that the Military Appeals Court upheld in December 2019, making it a final ruling that can only be reversed with a pardon from the president.

In October 2018 security forces arrested Ayman Abdel Moati, director of advertising and marketing for Dar Al Maraya Publishing and Distribution, from his workplace. The Supreme State Security Prosecution charged Ayman with the usual charges, which include “joining a terrorist group and spreading false news.” Abdel Moati remained imprisoned in this case until August 2019, when the Criminal Court issued a decision to release him, but soon the security services included him in a new trumped-up case so that his imprisonment continues to this day without trial.

The regime is not just targeting publishers, it’s also closing libraries. In December 2016, the Sisi regime closed the Karama library chain which was founded by prominent human rights defender Gamal Eid in 2011, without a judicial order or legal basis. And in August 2017, the Committee for Seizing Brotherhood Funds issued a decision to seize “Libraries A” (37 branches), owned by independent businessman Omar El-Shenety. Then, the most famous bookstore chain in Egypt quickly collapsed and closed its doors. In September 2017, the Sisi regime closed the Al-Balad library, owned by the head of the opposition Egyptian Democratic Party, Farid Zahran, claiming that it was unlicensed, and the library has not opened its doors since then.

All these facts confirm that the Sisi regime is fed up with any independent voice that is not under its authority, even if this voice is just a cultural voice that aims only to spread science and knowledge, and that all of this comes in the context of a major campaign aimed at confiscating freedom of thought and expression and storming cultural freedoms. The irony is that Sisi comes out after all this to urge Egyptians to read and think but it seems that he intended people to only read books that the state approves of, and to think critically in reality to adopt the state’s viewpoint. Of course, this does not include thinking about the dictatorship of the regime and the need to change it.