The family home of prominent Egyptian blogger Wael Abbas was raided and searched by plainclothes police while the activist was attending a bloggers’ conference in Beirut, both Abbas and his mother said Sunday.
Abbas first made a name for himself online by posting videos on his blog, Misr Digital, depicting the torture of detainees in the custody of Egyptian police. In 2007, one of these videos led to the trial and eventual imprisonment of two police officers found guilty of torturing a driver in Cairo’s low-income Bulaq neighborhood.
Abbas’ mother, who did not want her name published, told Al-Masry Al-Youm that she had been "terrorized" by Sunday’s raid, which, she said, began at 11 AM with loud banging on her front door by "at least seven big men " demanding to see her son. She initially refused to let the men in, attempting instead to talk to them through the door, she recounted.
"They kept demanding to be let in, raising their voices and claiming they had an arrest warrant for Wael," she said, still visibly shaken. "As I spoke with one of them, I heard another say they should break down the door, which I quickly locked."
The men refused to provide any identification, warrants or other official documentation to prove they were there on official assignment, she said, adding that they appeared to be unarmed.
The ground-floor apartment was finally breached when one of the men entered through a window while another managed to unlock the door from outside. "I started screaming," recalled Abbas’ mother.
Her husband was ill at the time and unable to prevent the men from searching the apartment. Concerned neighbors, meanwhile, were prevented by police from interfering.
According to the blogger’s mother, two police cars could be seen waiting outside. As far as she knew, she added, nothing was taken from the house.
Abbas, for his part, was first informed of the incident while still in Beirut and returned to Cairo shortly afterward. The blogger says he was detained for one hour at Cairo International Airport upon his return–for carrying a book entitled "How to overcome Internet censorship"–before being released without incident.
"If there had been a criminal case against me, I would have been held at the airport," he said. "But this didn’t happen."
Abbas has yet to return home. He is currently in contact with several local human rights advocates, including the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, which has already reported the incident.
The blogger says he has been harassed by State Security several times in the past. His personal laptop was once confiscated at the airport and he says he has occasionally received intimidating phone calls from people identifying themselves as State Security officers.
Interior Ministry spokesperson Brigadier-General Hany Abdel Latif refused to elaborate on the incident, saying merely that police had responded to complaints lodged against Abbas by his neighbors for illegally using their internet connections. "For this he received a six-month prison sentence in absentia," said Abdel Latif.
He confirmed, however, that the men had come to Abbas’ home with the intention of apprehending him. For further details, he told Al-Masry Al-Youm to "ask Abbas’ neighbors."
Abbas, meanwhile, says he "still doesn’t know anything about this," while his lawyer, Rawda Ahmed, says she still must authenticate Abdel Latif’s claims before issuing an official response.