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Egypt arrests popular social media satirist over ‘illegal group’

An Egyptian satirist known for his ribald humour was detained by Egyptian authorities on suspicion of joining an “illegal group”, his lawyer said on Tuesday.

Islam al-Rifai, who has more than 70,000 followers on Twitter where he posts lewd jokes and pictures, was arrested last Thursday, his lawyer Gamal Eid said.

The lawyer said Rifai – who also designs websites – had been lured into being arrested after receiving a phone call from someone who claimed he wanted help with a website.

Prosecutors then charged him with belonging to an “illegal group”, the lawyer said.

It was not immediately clear what group prosecutors suspected him of joining.

Rifai’s arrest led to supporters launching Twitter hashtags reading in Arabic “Freedom for Khorm” and “Khorm is not a criminal” – a sexually suggestive alias he uses online that literally means “hole”.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, a former military leader elected after ousting his Islamist predecessor, has been accused of a widening crackdown on dissent.

The latest arrest coincides with a statement released by Human Rights Watch urging Egypt and the UAE to reveal the whereabouts of an Egyptian detainee who was due to be released last month.

Mosaab Ahmed Abdel Aziz was arrested in 2014 in Abu Dhabi and sentenced to three years on charges of joining the Islah Party, a group affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. Both groups are banned in Egypt and the UAE.

Abdel Aziz was due to be released 20 October, and his family were informed that he would be deported to Egypt and a flight ticket needed to be booked for him. When Abdel Aziz did not arrive, his family followed up with prison officials, and were told he had been deported to Egypt on 7 November.

The international rights group said in a statement released on Tuesday that neither Egypt nor the UAE have responded to repeated requests from the family for information on their son.

“Abdel Aziz’s vanishing potentially adds another layer to the absolute failure of justice in his case from his arrest, throughout his detention, and to his purported release,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Abuses, including serious allegations of torture, have marred every step of the process.”

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