- Two Egyptian rights activists, Mohammed al-Dereini and Ahmed Sobh, have been arrested and detained for promoting the rights of the country’s Shi’a minority and criticising the prevalence of torture in Egyptian prisons.
Mohammed, who heads the Supreme Council for the Care of the Prophet’s Family, was taken away from his home by security agents before dawn on Monday. Ahmed, the Imam of Ali Center for Human Rights, was arrested on 28 August but was not questioned by the state prosecutor until 29 September.
Both men have been held in solitary confinement in Tora Prison, outside Cairo under Egypt’s Emergency Law.
They have been charged with promoting extreme Shi’a beliefs with “intent of causing contempt of the Islamic religion“, contrary to Article 98 (f) of the Penal Code. Mohammed and Ahmed also face charges relating to “spreading false rumours purposely to undermine trust in security agencies by claiming that prisoners and detainees died of torture.”
Mr al-Dereini’s lawyers blamed the prosecutor for focusing on their client’s Shi’a faith. Ironically, the lawyers’ objections to the prosecutor’s questions were deleted from the official transcripts of the interrogation hearing.
Sobh and al-Dereini’s charge of “spreading false rumours” was linked to a newspaper interview, criticising the government for its widespread torture of Islamic detainees. In 2006, al-Dereini published a book on torture in Egypt titled Hell’s Capital.
Human rights activists said the detention and prosecution of the men form part of the government’s “broad crackdown” on right activists, journalists and other critics of the government. It followed the sentencing of four independent newspaper editors found guilty of publishing “false news, statements or rumours likely to disturb public order.
The Governor of Cairo closed the offices of the Association for Human Rights Legal Aid [a group that assist torture victims] through a decree.
Egyptian government has been at daggers end with Shi’a critics of arbitrary arrests, unlawful detention, torture and mistreatment of Shi’a Muslims.
"The charges equate defending Shi`ism with an attack on Islam, which is a blatant affront to the basic right of freedom of religion," concurs Human Rights Watch Director for Middle East and North Africa, Sarah Leah Whitson. "And by jailing peaceful activists who criticize its torture and detention practices, the government only gives credence to their complaint," she said.
Both Sobh and al-Dereini have been detained without trial in the past for so long. They were accused of being members of an armed Islamic group.
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