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Egypt detains teachers' rights advocate who was part of government-sponsored dialogue

Zahran was 'forcibly disappeared' for days before being charged and his arrest has prompted a protest by a major rights group
Zahran is a leading teachers' rights activist and a spokesperson for teachers at a government-sponsored national dialogue (Mohamed Abdel Karim Zahran, Facebook)

Egyptian authorities have detained the leader of the country's teaching union, Mohamed Abdel Karim Zahran, after reports about his disappearance, according to two rights groups.

Geneva-based rights group the Committee for Justice (CFJ) reported earlier this week that Zahran had been forcibly disappeared.

In response, a lawyer familiar with the matter declared that the activist had been detained and sentenced to 15 days of pre-trial detention on charges of "joining a provocative group" and "spreading false news".

“The detention of Zahran is a devastating blow to all calls for dialogue launched by the Egyptian authorities,” CFJ said.

News of Zahran’s arrest was met with outrage by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), which has announced it it suspending its participation in the National Dialogue sessions that are supposed to be an opportunity for political change and national reconciliation in Egypt.

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Zahran was coincidentally scheduled to speak at the next session. 

EIPR says that Zahran's detention is linked to his activism and his call to hold teaching union elections, which have not been held since 2014. 

Zahran is currently held in the 10th of Ramadan Prison, in connection with Case No. 2123 of 2023 (Supreme State Security Investigations), EIPR said.

“Using political charges to imprison a participant in the dialogue called for by the President of the Republic is a direct threat to the freedom and safety of citizens who agreed to participate and present their views and proposals as experts or as representatives of political forces, trade unions, or civil organizations,” the EIPR said in a statement Thursday. 

“EIPR believes that Zahran’s arrest and the State Security Prosecution’s decision to remand him on political charges that exclusively stem from his union work convey a message of contempt for the participants in that process as well as those in charge of it, rendering it morally unacceptable to continue participating in the Dialogue until Dr. Zahran is released,” the statement continued.

Details of Zahran’s detention slowly began to emerge when his wife told EIPR that she had lost contact with her husband after he was summoned to the National Security headquarters in Abbasiya, Cairo, on the evening of 30 August. 

The summoning came after Zaharan had announced his participation in an event that was scheduled to be hosted by the Conservative Party on 10 September. 

That same evening, Zahran’s wife received a call asking her to bring her husband's mobile phone to the National Security headquarters and to hand it over at the gate.

Zahran’s family only learned on Wednesday that he had been brought before the Supreme State Security Prosecution on 6 September. 

The EIPR called on the National Dialogue’s board of trustees to act on Zahran’s arrest. 

CFJ also called on the Egyptian authorities to release Zahran, or “bring him to trial subject to internationally recognised fair trial standards, and to stop the policy of targeting activists and human rights defenders".

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