CAIRO — In a move that heightened concerns over freedom of expression and other individual rights in Egypt, special police forces raided a human rights center’s office in Cairo.
Six people were arrested and three computers confiscated in the raid late Wednesday on the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights. Five of those detained were later released, the group said Thursday.
"What is currently happening is a clear scenario of suppressing any voice trying to oppose the abuses being practiced" by the Egyptian authorities, said a statement jointly released by 10 Egyptian rights organizations. It cited large numbers of arrests and “unrealistic trials” of dissenters.
The prosecution made no announcement about the raid but lawyers following the case were told it was related to an outstanding arrest warrant against one of the center’s volunteers, Mohammed Adel.
Adel, who remained in custody, had been sought for violating a tough new anti-protest law. About two-dozen secular activists, some of them prominent in the 2011 uprising against longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak, have been arrested under the law, which bans protests not approved in advance by the authorities.
Rights advocates said the manner in which the raid was carried out suggested that it could be the start of a wider campaign to intimidate advocacy groups critical of the government. Particularly worrying to the groups was the use of National Security forces, a special police branch roughly analogous to the FBI.
"There were so many violations reported during the raid. Others were arrested alongside Adel, and an arrest warrant shouldn’t be executed by National Security officers in the first place,” said Gamal Eid, the executive director of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information. “Additionally, the center's workers were beaten during the arrest, and computers were confiscated.”
The raid was reminiscent of a major crackdown in 2011, in which police swooped down on several foreign non-governmental organizations, mainly involved in promoting democracy, after prosecutors accused them of working without legal authorization and receiving illicit funding from abroad. A court later sentenced 43 employees, including U.S. citizens who had left the country before the verdict, to terms ranging from one to five years in prison.
Hassan is a special correspondent. Staff writer Laura King in Cairo contributed to this report.
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