Townhouse Gallery was raided last night by an inter-agency force of over 20 government workers; tonight, Merit Publishing House was also raided.
At around 7 PM last night, an inter-agency force of nearly 20 government workers - mostly claiming to be working for the Censorship Authority - stormed into the Townhouse Gallery premises. According to Mada Masr, they searched the offices and inspected employee IDs, employee computers, and office computers. Archival material and artwork on display was also inspected, as was reported by an employee who wished to remain anonymous.
No search or arrest warrants were presented during the raid, which ended after employees were questioned for several hours and had their IDs photocopied before being allowed to leave. One of the computers was confiscated, as well as CDs, documents, exhibition material, archival material, and some flash drives.
We spoke to an eyewitness who was present during the raid but would rather remain anonymous for security reasons. When asked what happened with the government workers when they first entered the premises, the eyewitness told us, "They weren't aggressive, but rather invasive. They went through all of our stuff - usb sticks, laptops, the archives, books, and asked a whole bunch of questions." Uncertain of the reason behind the unannounced visit, we asked the eyewitness if the government workers provided any reasons for their presence; "They didn't give any reasons, just that it's routine - checking for licensing issues and that they are checking for any copyright infringement in the audio/video content that we archive. Everything they asked to check was in order; no violations were found, yet they still shut the place down," said the eyewitness.
The establishment has been operating since 1998 as a non-profit organisation that has helped promote budding artists and their works. It has served as a platform for many aspiring artists who are still unfamiliar with the ropes in Egypt's arts industries and would otherwise - if it wasn't for places like Townhouse and similar establishments - never have gained any exposure.
A similar incident occurred this evening as Mada Masr reports that Merit Publishing House's office was raided and one of their staff members arrested, only to be ordered for release later in the evening. Reasons behin this raid appear to be a claim filed against the publishing house for operating without a license and selling unregistered books. Recurring incidents of this sort leave the public to question whether this is the start of a campaign against independent arts and culture hubs. While we hope not to have to report another raid, we will continue to update you as these stories unfold.