Monthsof harassment force Copt blogger to censor herself
Reporters Without Borders today condemned the months of harassment by the authorities in Qina (near Luxor, in central Egypt) that forced Hala Helmy Botros to close down her blog Aqbat Bela Hodood (Copts Without Borders) about the persecution of the Christian Coptic minority, and to stop writing on this subject for other websites.
Botros, 42, who wrote under the pseudonym of Hala El-Masry, is now the target of a judicial investigation and is banned from leaving the country.
“We are outraged by the practices used by the Egyptian authorities to intimidate and silence Botros,” Reporters Without Borders said. “With relations between Christians and Muslims off-limits in the traditional media, all she did was write posts on the Internet about the fate of the Coptic minority. It is unacceptable that freedom of expression and movement should be restricted in this fashion. We insist that the authorities guarantee Botros’ basis rights.”
In articles, interviews and video reports online, Botros had accused the political authorities and police of complicity in the attacks against Copts on 19 January when they tried to restore their church in the village of Edyssat (near Luxor). Houses were burned and the church was destroyed in the course of this violence, in which two Copts were killed and several others injured.
Her posts clearly irritated the authorities as first her phone line was cut and then her Internet connection, forcing her to go to her father’s house to continue posting. The authorities also placed her under surveillance. One night, her father was beaten by two strangers who told him, “This is a present from your daughter.”
When he went to the police station to report this, the police got him to sign a blank sheet to which they added a statement in which he appeared to accuse her of being responsible for the attack. Botros reacted by filing a complaint against the police officer concerned, Mahmoud Sabri, accusing him of bringing false charges, but the case was not pursued by the authorities.
On 15 June, she tried to fly to the United States to attend a conference about the Copts in Newark, New Jersey, but the authorities removed her from the airplane before it took off, on the grounds that she was banned from the leaving the country. She was questioned for several hours at the airport and ordered to report to a state security court in Cairo on 25 June.
Security agents raided her home on the night of 22 June with the apparent intention of arresting her, but she was in Cairo at the time. Her husband was forced to go with them and to sign a statement guaranteeing that she would report to the court three days later.
Botros went to the court with two lawyers, Mamdouh Ramzy and Naguib Gobraeil, on 25 June. She was questioned about her Internet posts and accused of “spreading false news” and of “disrupting social harmony between the Muslim and Christian communities.” She was released the same day after paying 3,000 Egyptian pounds (400 euros) in bail, but was questioned again the next day.
Fearing for her safety and the safety of her family, Botros finally decided to shut down her blog. She is being watched by plain-clothes police, her telephone is tapped and her e-mail is being monitored.