Egypt: minority rights campaigner Mina Thabet held in custody

Prominent Egyptian rights campaigner Mina Thabet was remanded in custody for fifteen days on Saturday by prosecutors in Cairo, to be investigated on charges including seeking to overturn the regime and joining a terrorist group.

Thabet, the programme director for minorities and marginalised groups at the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, was taken from his home during a raid by plainclothes police in the early hours of Thursday morning, the NGO has said.

On Thursday a prosecutor ordered him detained for an initial four days, on charges of inciting unlicenced protests, calling for the overthrow of the regime, inciting attacks on police stations, and joining a terrorist group that prevents state insituttions from doing their work, according to ECRF lawyer Doaa Mostafa, who was quoted in the local press.

International rights watchdog Amnesty International condemned the arrest as a “flagrant attack against freedom of expression and association” and in a Thursday release described Thabet as “a pillar of Egypt’s human rights community” who “has tirelessly worked to defend the rights of minority groups, including Coptic Christians.”

Thabet is the second employee of the ECRF to be arrested in recent weeks; on 25 April, Ahmed Abdallah, the director of the NGO’s board, was arrested at his home. He has since been charged with inciting unlicenced protests, among other offences.

(Ahram Online, Saturday 21 May 2016)

Mina Thabet, a human rights activist specialising in Coptic and Minority rights, was arrested yesterday at his home in the early hours of the morning by plainclothes police officers.

Mr Thabet is Minority Rights Program Director at the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF). He was arrested at his home at 3.30am on 19 May and taken away in an unmarked car. Earlier in the day a national security agent had visited Mr Thabet’s family and made enquiries about him. Mr Thabet is in police detention after being charged with belonging to a terrorist group, inciting violence and public assembly, spreading fabricated information for terrorist purposes, inciting attacks on police stations, and possession of leaflets undermining national security and the ruling regime.

The evidence against Mr Thabet is reported to include an introductory paper on the Bread and Freedom Party, a notebook containing Virgin Mary pictures and documents on international law relating to the rights of minorities.

The ECRF’s work includes a focus on minority rights, including the Coptic community, and Mr Thabet has worked on several cases, including the Coptic students from El Minya province who were convicted of blasphemy and related charges in February.

Mr Thabet’s arrest is part of an intensified crackdown on NGOs and human rights defenders in Egypt that has resulted in the arrests of human rights defenders across the country and the imposition of multiple travel bans and asset freezes. In June 2015, Mohamed Lofty, ‎the Executive Director of the ECRF was detained and had his passport confiscated in Cairo airport as he attempted to travel to Germany.

The President of the Board of the ECRF, Ahmed Abdallah, was arrested at his home in April and faces the same charges as Mina Thabet. The continued targeting of human rights defenders has been condemned by United States Secretary of State, the United Kingdom Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Federal Foreign Office in Germany and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Mervyn Thomas, Chief Executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), said, “We are deeply concerned by the arrest of Mina Thabet and the worrying crackdown on civil society and human rights defenders. Egypt undoubtedly faces an unprecedented terrorist threat that sometimes necessitates extraordinary measures; however human rights defenders ought to be viewed as allies in the effort to create a just and equitable society and accountable governance Mr Thabet and the ECRF perform invaluable work in highlighting the difficulties encountered by minority groups and assisting victims of violations to seek redress. We urge the authorities to ensure that he receives due process and it is our hope that the exaggerated charges filed against him are dropped. We further call upon the Egyptian authorities to adhere to the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, which Egypt supported in 1998, which says that States should guarantee the rights of individuals, including in association with others, to promote and protect fundamental freedoms, which is what Mr Thabet and his colleagues are doing.”

(CSW, 20 May)

Prominent Egyptian human rights defender, Mina Thabet, Director of the Minority and Religious Groups Department at the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF), was arrested today as the government escalates its assault on Egypt’s NGO community.

He was seized during a raid on his home in Cairo in the early hours of this morning by members of the Egyptian National Security Agency, who ill-treated him and his family members and refused to disclose his place of detention.

“Mina Thabet is a pillar of Egypt’s human rights community. He has tirelessly worked to defend the rights of minority groups, including Coptic Christians whom the government has suppressed for decades. His arrest is a flagrant attack against freedom of expression and association and provides damning proof of the Egyptian authorities’ vindictive resolve to silence anyone who dares to challenge the government’s narrative,” said Magdalena Mughrabi, interim Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Program at Amnesty International.

“Mina Thabet is the latest of the many NGO workers targeted by the government for detention or intimidation. These are peaceful activists who must be allowed to carry out their work without fear of harassment or even imprisonment. The continuing onslaught against peaceful activists suggests the Egyptian authorities are ruthlessly determined to paralyze the country’s NGO community and render it utterly defunct.

“On the international stage Egypt has justified its crackdown under the guise of fighting against terrorism, but they are using this as cover to treat peaceful human rights workers and government critics as criminals. It is critical that the international community takes a stand and urgently calls on Egypt to end its persecution of peaceful activists immediately.”
According to earlier information from the East Cairo Prosecutor office, Thabet will face charges based on the Counterterrorism and Protest laws for participating in peaceful protests on April 25 against Egypt’s decision to transfer control of two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia.

Thabet’s detention comes just a few weeks after the arrest of Ahmed Abdullah, the Director of ECRF, who was seized from his home on April 25. He faces a string of charges under the Counterterrorism and Protest laws, including inciting protests on April 25 and attempting to overthrow the government.

Thabet has worked to defend the rights of minority groups, specifically Coptic Christians, since the 2011 uprising. He is a prisoner of conscience detained solely for exercising his rights to freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association and he must be released immediately and unconditionally with all charges against him dropped.

(Amnesty International USA, 19 May)