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Egypt cartoonist arrest stirs fresh alarm

January 31, 2016

Egyptian police arrested a cartoonist Sunday on charges of running a website without permission, in a move denounced by opposition parties.

Since then army chief and now President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi overthrew his Islamist predecessor Mohamed Morsi in 2013, the authorities have been accused of cracking down on all forms of opposition.

An interior ministry statement said Islam Gawish was arrested on Sunday at work, the office of a local information website that operates without the required legal permits.

It said he was detained for “administering a personal site on the Internet without a licence in violation of the law”, and also accused him of using pirated computer software.

Gawish’s cartoons, which at times mock Sisi and other officials, are posted on a Facebook page followed by more than 1.6 million people. He also runs a website.

One of his lawyers, Ahmed Abdel Rahman, told AFP that Gawish will be referred to the prosecution service on Monday.

A joint statement by several small opposition parties demanded the cartoonist’s “immediate release”, and denounced what it called a policy of “restricting freedom of opinion and expression adopted recently by the state apparatus”.

“We warn about the consequences of a return to the police state and the repression of freedoms,” said the statement signed by eight parties including the liberal Al-Dostour, founded by Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei.

Gawish’s arrest coincides with the fifth anniversary of the 2011 popular uprising that forced strongman Hosni Mubarak to step down after three decades in power.

The months that followed Morsi’s ouster more than two years later saw more than 1,400 Islamist protesters demanding his reinstatement killed by police and soldiers, and more than 15,000 jailed.

Initially targeting Morsi supporters, the crackdown has been extended to include secular and leftist movements.

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Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.