JOHANNESBURG – The Egyptian authorities are continuing their draconian crackdown on all forms of criticism with the arrest of Hazim Abdelazim, a former campaigner for incumbent President Abdel-Fatteh El Sisi, who turned critic.
Abdelazim was arrested on Sunday by police who gave no reason for his detention but Reuters reported that a source said his detention followed suspicions that he had “published false news and incited against the state”.
Once a deputy telecoms minister under ousted Hosni Mubarak, Abdelazim later headed the youth committee in Sisi's 2014 presidential election campaign.
He's especially active on Twitter, where he has 752,000 followers and regularly criticises Sisi and his policies, Al Jazeera reported.
"I have been right and I have made mistakes, and my biggest mistake was accepting to join Sisi's campaign," Abdelazim's Twitter profile reads.
Abdelazim's arrest is the latest development in what rights groups say is a campaign to silence government critics.
However, even before Sisi won the disputed and largely uncontested presidential elections at the end of March, Egyptian security forces embarked on a campaign of arrests, detention and the abuse of journalists, NGO employees, and political opponents.
To give the elections a veneer of credibility, a one-time supporter of Sisi, Moussa Mustafa Moussa, ran against him but didn’t bother to campaign in the period preceding the presidential race.
Following a turnout of just over 41 percent of eligible voters, the Egyptian president won almost 97 percent of the votes with Moussa trailing third after securing less than 3 percent of the votes. Coming in second place were nearly 2 million deliberately spoilt votes.
The North African country has made it a crime to criticise the security forces despite a plethora of human rights abuses reportedly carried out by the military and police against political opponents, according to international rights groups including Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International.
Journalists that publish even mildly critical pieces are accused of publishing “fake news”.
This month alone, a number of critical bloggers were arrested, including award-winning blogger and journalist Wael Abbas who was accused of involvement with an illegal organisation and publishing “false news”.
Bloggers Sherif Gaber and Shady Abuzaid, known for his YouTube and Facebook videos, were also arrested this month.
Earlier last week, an Egyptian military court sentenced journalist and researcher Ismail Alexandrani to 10 years in prison.
Alexandrani, an expert on insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula, was arrested in November 2015 and accused of belonging to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.
According to Twitter Walid Salem, a PhD candidate at the University of Washington, has disappeared in Egypt after conducting an interview with legal scholar Nour Farahat.
Human Rights Watch has issued numerous reports over the years condemning Egypt's crackdown on dissenting voices.
"President Abed-Fattah El Sisi’s government continues to preside over the worst human rights crisis in the country in decades," HRW wrote.
"Police systematically used torture, arbitrary arrests, and enforced disappearances to silence political dissent. Thousands of civilians were tried by military courts.
"By introducing new restrictive NGO legislation, detaining journalists, and prosecuting human rights defenders and subjecting them to travel bans, the government is working to eradicate independent civil society in the country."