Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] on Monday called on Egyptian authorities to drop charges [press release] against a female blogger accused of insulting Egyptian armed forces and inciting the use of violence on Twitter [official website]. Asmaa Mahfouz, 26, voiced her concern about Egypt's justice system and the military government's conduct in messages posted on the social media site. AI Director for Middle East and North Africa Malcolm Smart condemned Egyptian authorities for seeking to try Mahfouz in a military court:
Asmaa Mahfouz is facing a military trial merely for posting comments which criticize the Egyptian military justice system and do not at all appear to represent a call to violence. The Egyptian authorities' decision to refer Asmaa Mahfouz to a military court seems intended to send a message to those critical of the authorities that dissent will not be tolerated. The charges against her must be dropped immediately.Mahfouz, who was released on bail shortly after being detained by prosecutors on Sunday, denies the allegations.
Social media has had a significant impact in the recent revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa. AI reported [text] in May that the pro-democracy protests have demonstrated the unique opportunities [JURIST report] that social media has created for human rights activists. In April, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] reported that an Egyptian military court convicted blogger Maikel Nabil [JURIST report] and sentenced him to three years in prison for criticizing the army and raising questions over reform in the wake of revolution in a blog post. Syrian Internet users reported in early February that social media sites Facebook and YouTube are accessible [JURIST report] without proxy servers or VPNs. Syria appeared to be lifting the ban imposed in 2007 as a concession to avoid popular upheaval [DP report] in Syria. In late January, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay acknowledged reports of tactics including rubber-coated bullets, tear gas, water cannons and batons [JURIST report] in Egypt, and called on the government to investigate the reports of excessive force including civilian deaths. Pillay also pressed the government to lift the emergency law that had been in force for nearly 30 years and restore the use of mobile phones and social networks.