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Egypt orders pre-trial detention for eight rights activists

The activists appeared in custody on Thursday after 21 days of enforced disappearance
Rights activist Aisha Shater (L) and her husband lawyer Mohamed Abu Horairah (R) are facing charges of 'joining an illegal group and inciting harm to Egypt's economy' (Facebook)

Egypt has ordered 15-day pre-trial detention for eight human rights activists and lawyers who have been missing for nearly 21 days in the capital Cairo.

According to activists who spoke to MEE on Friday, the State Security Prosecution has accused eight activists, including human rights lawyers Hoda Abdelmonem and Mohamed Abu Horairah, of "joining an illegal group" and "inciting harm to the national economy".

The defendants include activists Aisha Shater, Mohamed al-Hodeiby, Ahmed al-Hodeiby, and Bahaa Odah, Marwa Abdelmonem, Ibrahim Atta and Somaya Nassef.

The eight defendants had been missing since their detention in the early hours of Thursday 1 November, and have only appeared yesterday at the prosecution headquarters in the east of Cairo.

Abdelmonem, 60, was taken from her home to an undisclosed location in the early hours of 1 November by security forces that had turned her flat upside down, in what rights groups have described as unlawful "enforced disappearance".

She was one of at least 19 activists and human rights defenders targeted by authorities that day, according to Amnesty International.

At least 40 other rights workers, activists and lawyers have been rounded up since late October and held incommunicado by Egyptian security forces, according to Human Rights Watch.

Abdelmonen's daughter, Gehad Khaled, told MEE that her family was able to see her after four hours of interrogations on Wednesday but that she was “in dire health condition with clear signs of weight loss and trauma.”

“Hoda Abdelmonem is a public figure…her activities are all practiced in public and her work and home addresses are known to the authorities,” the family said in a statement.

“We can see no reason to first abduct and hide her, then keep her in detention but as a sense of revenge by Egyptian authorities because of her activism and advocacy.”

London-based Egyptian human rights researcher Ahmed Attar said that the state security prosecution had violated the law by erroneously stating in its report that the eight defendants were arrested one day before they appeared, although they were all held three weeks ago.

“The public prosecution is supposed to be the people’s attorney against the executive authorities, but they overlooked the fact that all defendants were forcibly disappeared in violation of the law,” he told MEE.

The recent round of arrests is part of a crackdown on rights defenders and dissent led by ِAbdel Fattah al-Sisi, a general-turned-president who came to power after leading a military coup against his predecessor, Mohamed Morsi in 2013.

Rights groups have documented at least 60,000 political prisoners since Sisi assumed office, in a crackdown that Human Rights Watch has described as "the worst human rights crisis in the country in decades".

The crackdown intially targetted members and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, from which Morsi hails, but then extended to liberal and independent government critics.