YouTube stops account of Egypt anti-torture activist

CAIRO Tue Nov 27, 2007 10:37am EST

CAIRO Nov 27 (Reuters) - The video-sharing Web site YouTube has suspended the account of a prominent Egyptian anti-torture activist who posted videos of what he said was brutal behaviour by some Egyptian policemen, the activist said.

Wael Abbas said close to 100 images he had sent to YouTube were no longer accessible, including clips depicting purported police brutality, voting irregularities and anti-government demonstrations. YouTube, owned by search engine giant Google Inc (GOOG.O), did not respond to a written request for comment. A message on Abbas's YouTube user page, youtube.com/user/waelabbas, read: "This account is suspended."

"They closed it (the account) and they sent me an e-mail saying that it will be suspended because there were lots of complaints about the content, especially the content of torture," Abbas told Reuters in a telephone interview. Abbas, who won an international journalism award for his work this year, said that of the images he had posted to YouTube, 12 or 13 depicted violence in Egyptian police stations.

Abbas was a key player last year in distributing a clip of an Egyptian bus driver, his hands bound, being sodomised with a stick by a police officer -- imagery that sparked an uproar in a country where rights groups say torture is commonplace.

That tape prompted an investigation that led to a rare conviction of two policemen, who were sentenced to three years in prison for torture. Egypt says it opposes torture and prosecutes police against whom it has evidence of misconduct.

YOUTUBE RULES

YouTube regulations state that "graphic or gratuitous violence" is not allowed and warn users not to post such videos. Repeat violators of YouTube guidelines may have their accounts terminated, according to rules posted on the site.

Rights activists said by shutting down Abbas's account, YouTube was closing a significant portal for information on human rights abuses in Egypt just as Cairo was escalating a crackdown on opposition and independent journalists.

The Internet has emerged in Egypt as a major forum for critics of the Egyptian government.

"The goal is not showing the violence, it is showing police brutality. If his goal was just to focus on violence without any goal, that is a problem. But Wael is showing police brutality in Egypt," said Gamal Eid, head of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information.

This year, for the first time, an Egyptian court convicted and jailed a blogger over his Internet writings.

A string of court rulings since September has seen at least 12 Egyptian journalists ordered jailed on charges from defaming President Hosni Mubarak to misquoting the minister of justice.

Elijah Zarwan, a prominent blogger and activist in Egypt, said he thought it was unlikely that YouTube had come under official Egyptian pressure, and was more likely reacting to the graphic nature of the videos.

"I suspect they are doing it not under pressure from the Egyptian government but rather because it made American viewers squeamish," he said. "But to shut them down because some people might find the truth disturbing is unconscionable." (Writing by Cynthia Johnston)

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