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Egypt: Animation artist arrested for video commemorating revolution

The arrest of Ashraf Hamdi coincides with the 10th anniversary of Egypt’s 25 January revolution
Hamdi has a large following on his YouTube channel, where he regularly uploads animated videos (Screengrab/YouTube/Instagram)

Egyptian authorities arrested caricature artist and animated film director Ashraf Hamdi on Sunday evening, after he published a video marking the 10th anniversary of Egypt’s 25 January revolution, which toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak.  

“I am getting arrested,” Hamdi posted on his Facebook account late on Sunday, to which hundreds of people expressed concern and questioned where he was being taken and what was happening to him. 

Over 400 people shared the Facebook post in a desperate attempt to draw attention to his arrest. 

Hamdi, who previously worked as a cartoonist for the government-owned magazine Sabah Al-Khair and the Masrawy website, gained recognition for his animated videos, which provide commentary on social issues through cartoon characters.

انا بيتقبض عليا

Posted by Ashraf Hamdi on Sunday, 24 January 2021

Hamdi regularly posts to his YouTube channel, Egyptoon, where he has over three million subscribers and receives hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions, of views per video. 

The videos reflect on social and political issues, as well as on current affairs in Egypt and around the Middle East, in a humorous way. 

In one of his most recent videos, Hamdi recounts the experiences felt during the 25 January revolution in 2011, including some of the popular slogans that were chanted, such as “bread, freedom, social justice”.

In the video, an animated character speaks about his feelings of being silenced and his hopes for the revolution to continue.

“I am the voice when the world wants silence. I’m the one who stood in the face of injustice, corruption, tyranny. I am the one who called for peace, bread, freedom and social justice. I am the one who smiled while I was being shot at. I am the one whose blood was pouring on the ground and was stepped on. 

"I am the one, who in the middle of feeling frustration and feeling broken, am telling people that futility is betrayal. We will continue the journey. I am the one who is standing in front of you with all glory, but in reality we will continue.”

The animated video ends with the Arabic word “mikamileen”, meaning “we will continue”.

Gamal Eid, the director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, issued a statement calling for Hamdi’s release and highlighting that his arrest is a clear indication that Egypt’s clampdown on activists and dissenting voices is still in full force. 

“We hope that the public prosecutor will take action and stop these actions … Ashraf Hamdi is an artist who only knows his paintbrushes, colours and keyboard. 

"His arrest, coinciding with the anniversary of the revolution, makes it clear that the police and authorities have not changed and that this approach is an inherent feature of the police apparatus. Will the attorney general play his role in protecting the law and the freedom of citizens?” 

'Mass arbitrary detention'

According to local media reports, Egypt’s Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly issued an extension of emergency laws ahead of the anniversary of the revolution, deeming any large gatherings or disruption of transport as crimes. 

The arrest of Hamdi comes as rights groups continue to highlight negligence and denial of healthcare in Egypt’s prisons.

A report by Amnesty International published on Monday states that Egypt has "a policy of mass arbitrary detention", and has failed to address overcrowding in prisons, despite the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. 

'Thousands continue to be detained arbitrarily, solely for exercising rights guaranteed under international law'

- Amnesty International

The report reveals examples of prison overcrowding, poor hygiene and sanitation, a lack of access to clean water and ventilation as well as inadequate food. 

“Prisoners’ health and lives are further endangered by the failure of prison authorities - either through neglect or deliberate denial - to provide individuals in their custody with adequate healthcare, in breach of their obligations under international law.

"Thousands continue to be detained arbitrarily, solely for exercising rights guaranteed under international law, including the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, or on the basis of grossly unfair trials, including mass and military trials,” the report added. 

According to Human Rights Watch, security forces in Egypt carry out forced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and the torture of dissidents, including on children. 

The rights group also states that Egypt's security and judicial authorities are using the Covid-19 pandemic as a pretext to preclude earnings from taking place.