Ahmad Abdallah, a prominent human rights defender arrested in Egypt, is being accused by the government of a series of offenses including, "Belonging to a terrorist group." He was one of those rounded up in the last week as the Egyptian authorities again showed how scared they are of peaceful dissent. Abdallah is the Head of Board of Trustees of Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF), an organization that has documented an alarming rise in enforced disappearances over the last year. He has also been providing legal advice to the family of Giulio Regeni, the Italian student murdered in Cairo earlier this year. Abdallah was arrested in the early hours of Monday April 25 when security forces broke into his home. He was taken to New Cairo police station. Like other peaceful activists in Egypt, he knows the dangers of criticizing the regime of President Sisi. I last saw him in Cairo in January, when he told me how he'd been targeted by state security and military intelligence forces since ECRF started to publicize the numbers of disappearances.
A couple of days before we met, he had narrowly escaped abduction. "Three men in civilian clothes went to a coffee shop where I often go in El Agouza," he said. "They came and asked the staff there about me and even described what I was wearing and the bag I was carrying. It was a near miss," He's one of many activists targeted in the last few weeks as repression of civil society has intensified. Secretary Kerry visited Cairo last week but failed to mention human rights in his public statement. Another activist, Sanaa Seif, was also called for questioning by the prosecutor for alleged involvement in the distribution of leaflets calling for protests. She stated that she considers the investigation against her to be a sham because the judiciary is now controlled by the executive. She now also faces charges for insulting a public official.
"The latest wave of mass arrests in Cairo and other governorates clearly reflects the repressive systematic strategy the state is implementing .... which reflects how nervous the ruling regime is," said the ECRF. Abdallah's detention has been extended by 15 days and according to his court case file he is being accused of ten offenses, including:
- Incitement for the use of force to overthrow the government and to change the state constitution and the republican system
- Incitement for attacking police stations in purposes of terrorism, use of violence and threats to force the President to refrain from exercising his statutory powers and duties entrusted to him by the Egyptian constitution
- Belonging to a terrorist group
The Sisi government's persecution of activists is a recipe for catastrophe. Washington needs to act decisively, publicly, and quickly to prevent Egypt's human rights crisis from deepening further. It could start by speaking out against what's happening this week.
The evening Abdallah and I met in January he kept checking his phone to see if anyone knew where the security forces were looking for him. "Some people say at least Egypt isn't as bad as Syria but this is how Syria started--with silencing liberal dissent," he told me.