UPDATE: Islam Gawish has been released from custody, as was announced on his Facebook page and by his attorney. According to state-run Ahram Online, no charges have been filed, perhaps due to the strong and immediate reaction to Gawish’s arrest.
Word spread quickly through social media Sunday that popular Egyptian cartoonist Islam Gawish had been arrested, apparently on charges of running an unlicensed Facebook page and spreading false news, which most read as code for criticizing the president:
Al-Bedaya news also reported that charges included “illegally possessing pirated computer software.” Al-Bedaya quoted a Ministry of Interior source as saying that Gawish will be referred to prosecution.
However, there is no official confirmation of the exact charges against Gawish.
Gawish’s colleague Mohamed al-Ziyat told Mada Masr that, “At noon [on Sunday], a force of over 10 security personnel stormed the social media marketing company where Gawish works and arrested him, confiscating his laptop and other computers owned by the organization[.]”
There was also a brief statement on Gawish’s popular Facebook page — which has more than 1.5 million followers — Al Waraqa. Gawish released a popular collection of his work last year by the same name.
His Facebook page has suspended activities following his arrest, although commentator Zeinobia noted that Gawish’s “unlicensed Facebook cartoon page jumped from 1.5 million likes to 1.6 million likes within couple of hours[.]”
As cartoonist and cartooning scholar Jonathan Guyer notes over at Oum Cartoon:
Gawish’s comics often feature gags about relationships, technology, and pop culture. Though he does address politics, most recently with some cartoons about the martyrs of the 2011 revolution, his illustrations are no more dissident than anything else published in Egypt’s independent media outlets and newspapers.
This is part of a series of attacks on Egypt’s creative and civil society, including the deportation of Arabic literature scholar and cultural activist Atef Botros; the crackdown on Townhouse Gallery and the Dar Merit publishing house; the retrial of novelist and journalist Ahmed Naji. The lack of proper “licensing” has been frequently used as a weapon against regime critics, although the need to have a Facebook license might be a new one. According to Ahram Online, “There are no legal restrictions in Egypt on launching and moderating a Facebook page. However, a significant number of moderators have been arrested in recent months on various charges, mostly for attempting to instigate protests and violence.”
Ahram Online also reported that an accountant who worked with Gawish was briefly detained and then released.
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