Four young Egyptians have been in prison since May 10, 2016, after they posted satirical videos about the country’s politics to YouTube. Now, prosecutors are considering additional criminal charges to the slate even as the group’s lengthy detention has been criticized internationally.
Human Rights Watch called on the Egyptian government to release the four jailed men, part of a comedy troupe called Street Children, who are now under investigation on terrorism charges as well as allegedly being “instigators against the ruling regime.” They are accused of using “the internet, social media sites, and YouTube” to insult state institutions and undermine the country’s stability, according to the Egyptian Interior Ministry’s National Security Agency.
Street Children, who boast over 1.1 million views on YouTube, released their first video in January, and over the following five months caught the notice of citizens across the Arab world as well as national authorities.
The last video the group published was called “Sisi is my president,” in which they asked Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to vacate office.
The Egyptian Supreme State Security Prosecution is now handling the case, an elevation that could spell disaster for the future of Street Children’s members.
“Egypt under Sisi is losing its legendary sense of humor when it locks up young men for making satirical videos,” Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East and North Africa director, said in a statement. “This kind of blanket repression leaves young people with few outlets to express themselves or joke about their daily hardships.”
The group’s detention has attracted attention within Egypt from high-profile celebrities and through a social media campaign headlined “Does this camera phone scare you?”
Some significant journalists and activists in the country, however, have welcomed the police action. “They’re inciting against the Egyptian state,” journalist Ahmed Musa said, according to Al-Monitor. “What they did is not freedom of opinion; they do not respect the army or the country.”
Tariq al-Awadi, a lawyer for the group, criticized a “police state” that accused the group of “releasing videos that insult the state, inciting gatherings and protests. That’s despite the fact that there is no such thing as a crime called ‘inciting gathering or protests.’”
Each charge the men face carries potential prisons terms of up to five years.