An Egyptian court in Cairo delivered a verdict on Saturday sentencing renowned government critic Hisham Kassem to a six-month jail sentence and a fine, according to local independent media. The charges stem from an online dispute with former minister Kamal Abu Eita. Kassem has previously been lauded for his fervent support of independent journalism in Egypt.
The charges brought against Kassem encompass allegations of slander, defamation, and verbal assault directed at a law enforcement officer. Kassem holds a prominent role in al-Tayyar al-Hurr (The Free Current), an organization primarily composed of liberal parties that is strategically positioned to endorse an opposition candidate challenging President el-Sisi in the upcoming 2024 election. After the verdict against Kassem, The Free Current announced on social media that they were temporarily suspending their political activity, saying Kassem was one of their leading candidates for the presidency.
In August, following his arrest, Kassem embarked on a hunger strike to protest his incarceration. Hossam Bahgat, the head of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, was part of the legal team representing Kassem and revealed that the court in Cairo imposed a fine of 20,000 Egyptian pounds (approximately $647) in addition to the jail term. Initially, prosecutors had ordered Kassem’s release under the condition that he post bail of 5,000 Egyptian pounds ($161). However, Kassem declined to pay, and police officers subsequently transported him to a police station in Cairo, where he allegedly engaged in a verbal altercation. Kassem’s legal team, led by Naseer Amin, has appealed this verdict in higher courts, which is scheduled to be heard on October 7.
Kassem’s case is just the latest in a series of crackdowns on individuals expressing dissent through social media, particularly as the election date approaches. On Thursday, Amnesty International issued a plea to the Egyptian authorities, urgently requesting the “immediate release” of Kassem and highlighting his “arbitrary detention.”