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Egypt jails Coptic rights activist on charges of 'terrorism'

Ramy Kamel had been sharing footage on his social media accounts highlighting incidents of sectarian violence in Upper Egypt
Ramy Malek is a founding member of the Maspero Youth Union (Twitter)

An Egyptian prosecutor ordered on Monday for Coptic rights activist Ramy Kamel to be held under provisional detention on charges of joining a terrorist organisation and spreading false news, his lawyer said.

Kamel is a prominent Coptic Christian activist and founder of the Maspero Youth Union, a human rights organisation founded in the wake of the 2011 revolution against longtime President Hosni Mubarak. 

He has been outspoken in his criticism of the Egyptian state’s failure to stem sectarian violence against Christians in southern Egypt.

According to his lawyer Atef Nazmy, Kamel was arrested from his home in Cairo on Saturday by seven plainclothes police officers.

After interrogating him on Sunday, a Cairo prosecution accused Kamel of joining a terrorist group, receiving foreign funding, and publishing false information, his lawyer told AFP news agency.

The prosecution ordered his provisional detention for 15 days pending investigations, the lawyer added.

According to Mina Thabet, a human rights defender and founding member of the Maspero Youth Union, Kamel received warnings from the Homeland Security apparatus nearly two weeks prior to his arrest, calling on him to either stop posting on social media or face arrest.

Since his arrest, Kamel's Facebook page has been deactivated.

Kamel had been sharing footage of alleged sectarian violence in which Coptic Christians were forcibly evicted by their Muslim neighbours in southern Egypt, suggesting the evictions were carried out with the tacit approval of local authorities.

Thabet said Kamel’s arrest was due to his social media posts that did not adhere to the state’s narrative on Coptic Christians.

The government of President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, in power since 2014, has been accused by rights groups of leading the worst crackdown on human rights in the country’s modern history.

“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.”

He condemned the charges against Kamel as “farcical”, stating that the state “underestimates” the scale of sectarian violence in the country.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom condemned Kamel's detention, urging the Sisi government to uphold religious freedom.

"USCIRF is deeply alarmed by [the] arrest of Coptic activist Ramy Kamel," said a post on the government body's Twitter account. 

"Egypt must... fulfil its claims of reform and steps toward religious freedom," it added, also criticising an "apparent renewed crackdown on activists and journalists" in the country.

Coptic Christians, who constitute approximately 10 percent of the mostly Muslim Egyptian population, have endured sectarian violence under successive Egyptian governments.

Religious discourse by state-appointed imams and ultraconservative clerics often incites negative feelings against non-Muslims, particularly in underprivileged rural areas.

At least 60,000 political prisoners languish in Egyptian jails, according to Human Rights Watch. The actual number is likely higher, the organisation said, but the state denies holding any political prisoners.