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Egypt: Prison Sentence for Posting a Mocking Image of the President on Facebook

(Oct. 22, 2015) On October 10, 2015, Amr Nohan, a 23-year-old man serving in the army, was sentenced by a military court to three years of imprisonment for posting on his personal Facebook page a picture of President Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi with Mickey Mouse ears. Human rights activists showed their opposition to the military court decision via a social media campaign to express solidarity with Nohan, calling his imprisonment an extreme violation of the right to freedom of speech. (3 Years for Drawing Mickey Mouse Ears on Sisi, MIDDLE EAST MONITOR (Oct. 20, 2015); Mona Daoud, Jailed for Putting Mickey Mouse Ears on Sisi?, CAIRO SCENE (Oct. 20, 2015).)

The court had found Nohan guilty under articles 178 (bis) (3) and 179 of the Penal Code of the crime of insulting the President of the Republic. Article 179 imposes the penalty of imprisonment against individuals who use means mentioned in article 178 to insult the President. Article 178 (bis), paragraph 3, states that individuals who use, make, and hold for the purpose of distribution, or who paste up or display, pictures offending the country’s reputation, whether those pictures depart from the facts, emphasize inappropriate aspects, or give an incorrect description, will be punished with a term of imprisonment. The Code does not specify the duration of the imprisonment applicable to such offenses. (Law No. 59 of 1937 (as last amended in 2011), Egyptian Court of Cassation website (in Arabic).)

Nohan was reportedly also charged with “attempting to overthrow the regime.” (Daoud, supra.) Article 98(b)(bis) of the Penal Code, which regulates this offense, imposes the penalty of imprisonment for not more than five years, and a fine, against individuals who propagate in the Republic of Egypt, by any means, a call to change the basic principles of the Constitution or overthrow the state economic or social system. Article 98(c)(bis) further extends these penalties to whoever obtains, personally or by an intermediary, or possesses written documents or printed matter constituting advocacy or propagation of any stance proscribed in article 98(b). (Law No. 59 of 1937, art. 98.)

Related to the ongoing debate in Egypt about the right to freedom of speech, on August 15, 2015, President Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi ratified Law No. 94 of 2015, known as the “Law on Combating Terrorism.” (Law 94 of 2015, 33 (bis) AL-JARIDAH AL-RASMYIA (Aug. 15, 2015) (in Arabic).) The Law was published in the Official Gazette on the same day it was ratified. Human rights organizations in Egypt and abroad claim that the Law imposes unprecedented restrictions on the freedom of speech. They also argue that it gives government authorities the ability to apply a broad definition of terrorism in order to arrest individuals who criticize the the government. (Thomas Monzon, Human Rights Watch: Egypt’s Anti-Terrorism Law ‘Erodes Basic Human Rights’, UPI (Aug. 19, 2015); George Sadek, FALQs: Egypt’s New Antiterrorism Law, IN CUSTODIA LEGIS (Sept. 8, 2015).)