The latest victim of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s press and activism crackdown is University of Washington PhD student Walid Salem. Often going under the allonym “Waleed Khalil al-Shobaky,” Salem was studying the Egyptian judicial system, when he was arrested and detained by Egyptian authorities on May 25.
The disappearance of Salem is strangely reminiscent of the murder of Italian postgraduate student Giulio Regeni in 2016. Regeni was researching Egyptian independent labor unions in Cairo when he was abducted by Egyptian security forces and found dead one week later. The Egyptian government maintains their stance of denying any involvement in Regeni’s death.
Salem’s disappearance is related to Case 441/2018, a vague statute used against prominent Egyptian journalists and activists, including Wael Abbas, Shady Abu Zaid, Amal Fathy, and Haitham Mohamadeen, amongst others. Case 441 is used by prosecutors to claim detainees as part of the “media wing of the Muslim Brotherhood,” joining an outlaw group, and disseminating false news against the state.
As of early May, thirty two journalists remain detained by Egyptian authorities. The number should be expected to rise after recent dawn raids against journalists and activists. In a detailed article, Human Rights Watch documents the latest wave of May arrests by Sisi’s regime:
“The state of oppression in Egypt has sunk so low that al-Sisi’s forces are arresting well-recognized activists as they sleep, simply for speaking up” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The message is clear that criticism and even mild satire apparently earn Egyptians an immediate trip to prison.”
The arrests come after a February statement by General Prosecutor Nabil Sadeq ordering prosecutors to monitor social media sites that “spread lies and fake news.” The statement said that government lawyers and chief prosecutors would take legal action against communication and sites that spread fake news, incite public fear, or damage public security.