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Detention of Egyptian photojournalist extended despite medical concerns

Esraa el-Taweel has been detained for 155 days pending trial
Esraa el-Taweel was seriously wounded while covering protests in 2014 (MEE /Mohamed Nagiub)

A Cairo criminal court renewed the detention of 23-year-old Esraa el-Taweel for 45 days on Monday on charges of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Images of Taweel sobbing as she stood on crutches in court were widely circulated on social media, eliciting an angry reaction from the global community.

Her supporters and human rights organisations started a petition calling for her release.

Taweel has already been detained for 155 days on charges of belonging to the outlawed Brotherhood, publishing false news and disturbing national security.

She disappeared on 1 June after she went out for dinner with two friends and never returned home. She was found two weeks later in the Al-Qanater Women’s prison.

Taweel was receiving physiotherapy after being confined to a wheel chair for months. She suffered a bullet injury to her spine when she was shot while taking photographs of a protest in January 2014.

Her friends shared a video of Taweel before her incarceration where she appears to be conflicted by the fact that despite “eating too much chocolate” she was still hungry.

In the video, she goes on to demonstrate to her audience how to prepare some food for oneself.

“This is Esraa who has been accused of threatening national security,” her supporters commented on the video sarcasticly pointing to her innocent and child-like personality.

In a Facebook post, Taweel’s father Mahfouz wrote: “Esraa, who is sick, was given 45 more days of detention. Esraa wept out of oppression and tyranny. Esraa wept because of the weakness and incapacity that may afflict her legs should she miss her physiotherapy. Your tears are dear, Esraa.”

Several Egyptian media anchors including Amr Adib, host of the Cairo Today daily talk show, also appeared to be sympathetic towards Taweel and appealed during his Monday episode to the authorities to release her.

“Mercy always trumps justice. Those who commit crimes should be treated with justice. But this poor girl, who is disabled and walks on crutches...her only crime is she joined the Muslim Brotherhood and worked with Al Jazeera,” said Adib.

“But can’t she be treated with mercy?” he asked rhetorically.

“When her detention was renewed, she didn’t put up the Rabaa sign (defiantly), the poor girl wept instead. Can’t she be tried?” he said.

Her lawyer Haleem Henish told the Daily News Egypt that they would issue an appeal calling for her release on Saturday.

“During the court session to review renewing her detention, the judge asked her what she wants and she told him about her medical condition and that she wants to go home to complete her physiotherapy course,” said Henish.

“The reports contain no evidence against her and the investigations held so far actually prove nothing of the charges,” he added.

Taweel's defence lawyers reportedly requested her release based on Article 34 of the Egyptian Criminal Code, which states that it is prohibited to detain someone who is physically disabled.

Taweel is among  41,000 people who have been arrested or detained in Egypt since the 3 July 2013 military coup led by former army general Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who is in the UK this week meeting British Prime Minister David Cameron, despite strong condemnation from opposition groups and human rights organisations.

Along with Taweel, two of her friends, Omar Ali and Sohaib Saad, also went missing on that summer night and were later found in the Scorpion and Tora high security prisons.

According to the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, a total of 215 people have been arrested through forced disappearances during August and September this year.

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