Wael Abbas, the Egyptian blogger who has been leaking video footage of police brutality and torture in Egypt through his website, MisrDigital, over the past year, has had his YouTube account suspended. One of Abbas's videos showed a bus driver being sodomized by two officers in a Cairo police station last year. Earlier this month, those officers were convicted of torture and sentenced to three years in prison. "This is by far the biggest blow to the anti-torture movement in Egypt," Abbas said, according to Amira Al Hussaini at Global Voices.
News wires began reporting YouTube's suspension of Abbas's account on Tuesday, and CNN just aired a clip about it, mostly rehashing a segment on Abbas aired a few weeks ago for an "Inside the Middle East" special on blogging. Abbas has been getting more press attention in the past few months, since he won an international journalism prize for his online reporting. After more than a year of leaking videos and posting his own photos of pro-democracy rallies going back to the huge May 2006 protests in Cairo against election fraud, the international press has started to take notice.
Abbas is convinced that government launched most of the complaints that compelled YouTube to suspend his account. In the past, intimidation tactics from the government have come in the form of threats against him and his family and attempts to block or shut down his and other opposition websites. "Blogging in the Middle East is harder than in the rest of the world. You'll be followed. You'll see that someone is watching you," Abbas said in an interview last January when I was in Cairo.
The international attention may be a slight buffer, but that does not stop government operatives in Egypt from going on the air and online to try and ruin the credibility of someone like Abbas, whether that means accusing him of converting to Christianity or of being gay. Again, there are the threats to his family. In a piece for Slate written last spring while he was in the States, Abbas worried that "the government's next step will be to send me to jail on charges of espionage and homosexuality. I'm told they will use the fact that I'm spending this month in the United States as part of a Freedom House fellowship program -- and as an intern at Slate -- to back up those charges."
That was in May. Today his YouTube clips are down, and now Yahoo has disabled his email account, according to his most recent post. Many Egyptian bloggers have offered their solidarity, although some see YouTube's decision as content protocol, since many of Abbas's videos are graphic. Hosting videos on different websites, many of them based in Europe, is seen as the immediate solution to YouTube's block, according to the Guardian.
Others see YouTube's move as evident of its parent company Google giving into state pressure -- first from Turkey, which has blocked YouTube for content deemed offensive to Ataturk, and now, possibly, Egypt.
"The bloggers in Egypt are the last independent voice," Abbas wrote last spring. "If we are silenced, no protests will be heard in Egypt, not only now, but for the coming quarter- or even half-century."