Christian activist’s arrest in Egypt prompts warnings of crackdown on dissent

A Coptic Christian boy lights a candle at a church in Cairo. Credit: Christopher Rose via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0).

Human rights groups have voiced concern over the arrest of a Coptic Christian activist in Egypt, on terrorism-related charges. Critics argue the arrest is an attempt to silence those who disagree with the government.

Ramy Kamel, founder of the human rights organization Maspero Youth Union, was arrested on Saturday by seven police officers. He faced charges of joining a terrorist group, publishing false news, and receiving foreign funding, AFP reported.

On Monday, the prosecution issued an order for a 15 day-long provisional detention while the investigation is pending.

Kamel had shared footage on Facebook of alleged sectarian violence in Southern Egypt, depicting Coptic Christians being forced out by local Muslims, suggesting that local authorities had turned a blind eye to the violence. Kamel’s Facebook page was deactivated after his arrest.

Human rights activists in recent years have warned repeatedly that Christians are enduring persecution and violence from Muslim groups, and the government has neglected to act. Coptic Christians make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s Muslim-majority population.

Mina Thabet, a human rights activist and member of Maspero Youth Union, told the Middle East Eye that Kamel had been threatened two weeks ago by authorities, who demanded the activist stop posting these videos on social media or face jail time.

He said the arrest follows a pattern under President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.

“This is the typical approach by the Sisi government in branding all its opponents as terrorists,” Thabet told Middle East Eye. “The Sisi government is waging a war against its opposition, rather than a war against terrorism.”

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom denounced the arrest, calling it a violation of religious liberty and freedom of speech.

“USCIRF is deeply alarmed by arrest of Coptic activist Ramy Kamel & apparent renewed crackdown on activists & journalists,” the organization posted on Twitter.

“#Egypt must release all such detainees & fulfill its claims of reform & steps toward #religiousfreedom.”

According to France 24, well-known Egyptian Coptic lawmaker Emad Gad also condemned the arrest on Facebook, calling it “shocking.”

“Release Ramy Kamel... you have no proof that Ramy broke the law,” he said.

The arrest follows a recent crackdown on journalists and other dissenting voices in Egypt. Earlier this week, Mada Masr, the only major independent media group in the country, said its office was raided by the authorities, who confiscated phones and laptops, and briefly arrested three employees.

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