January 14, 2016 / 10:26 AM / 2 years ago

Egypt arrests Facebook page administrators ahead of revolt anniversary

A man poses with a magnifier in front of a Facebook logo on display in this illustration taken in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, December 16, 2015.Dado Ruvic

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egyptian security forces have arrested two people for managing multiple Facebook pages they said were used to support the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and encourage protest, the Interior Ministry said.

The move intensified a security crackdown on dissent in the run-up to the fifth anniversary of the uprising that began on Jan. 25, 2011 and ended Hosni Mubarak's autocratic 30-year rule. Protest marches and rallies then were often organized by youth activists on Facebook and other social media platforms.

Egyptian security forces have arrested several activists and shut down cultural spaces in recent weeks to prevent them from gathering as the anniversary approaches, while government-appointed clerics have preached against public dissent.

"The administrators of these pages were arrested on charges of inciting against state institutions and spreading the ideas of the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as calling for marches on the coming Jan. 25," Interior Ministry spokesman Abu Bakr Abdel Karim said on an Egyptian talk show late on Wednesday night.

He identified those arrested as a 26-year-old man who managed 41 Facebook pages and a 22-year-old woman who was the administrator for six sites.

The Muslim Brotherhood, the world's oldest Islamist movement, emerged as the most popular group in the first, free parliamentary and presidential elections held after the 2011 uprising.

The Brotherhood was banned and designated a terrorist organization in 2013 after the military ousted elected President Mohamed Mursi, a Brotherhood official, following mass protests against his rule.

Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the military chief behind Mursi's ouster, was elected president a year later. On his watch, thousands of political critics have been jailed.

Sisi passed an anti-terrorism law in August that includes the death penalty for a dozen offences and includes punishments for online crimes related to terrorism.

The law has been criticized by human rights groups, who accuse Sisi of exploiting security threats to roll back political freedoms won after Mubarak was toppled.

"The ministry of interior will continue to stand against these terrorist pages that have long incited violence against state institutions and made fun of the major incidents experienced by the country recently," added Abdel Karim.

The Brotherhood and several liberal and left wing groups such as the secular 6 April youth movement have called for protests on the anniversary of the uprising, although not all explicitly call for Sisi's ouster.

Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein; Editing by Lin Noueihed and Mark Heinrich

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