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US senators urge Egypt to take action in case of detained Christian activist

Legislators ask Cairo to allow fair trial for Ramy Kamel or drop charges and release him
Ramy Kamel is a prominent Coptic Christian activist and founder of the rights group Maspero Youth Union
Ramy Kamel is prominent Coptic Christian activist and founder of rights group Maspero Youth Union (Twitter)
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Washington

A pair of bipartisan senators called on the Egyptian government to take action in the case of an imprisoned Egyptian human rights activist amid allegations of torture and increasing health concerns related to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Republican Senator Thom Tillis and Democrat Chris Coons, co-chairs of the Senate Human Rights Caucus, sent a letter to the Egyptian embassy in Washington last month, The Hill reported on Friday, advocating on behalf of Ramy Kamel, who has been imprisoned since November 2019.

Human rights groups say the Coptic Christian and human rights advocate's detention is an effort to silence his work on speaking up for religious minorities in Egypt.

"Mr. Kamel has dedicated his life to researching the plight of the Coptic community in Egypt and defending their religious liberties, and we fear his detention is a result of this activism," the senators wrote.

The senators also urged Egyptian authorities to either allow Kamel a fair trial or drop the charges and release him immediately.

'While Egypt is a vital partner of the United States, it is long past time that the US government unequivocally and uniformly call out Egypt for this destructive crackdown on civil society'

- Frederick Davie, USCIRF

"We urge the Egyptian government, as a steadfast partner of the United States and supporter of religious liberty, to take action commensurate with the values professed in the Egyptian Constitution and compatible with American values regarding human rights," they wrote.

"Mr. Kamel has been held under the unclear charges of defamation, funding a terrorist organization, and the misuse of social media," they added.

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 that ousted the longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

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

In November 2019, an Egyptian prosecutor ordered the activist detained on charges of joining a terrorist organisation and spreading false news. The arrest came as he was preparing to leave for Geneva, Switzerland, to testify at the United Nations Forum on Minority Issues.

UN experts said that Kamel was tortured and also deprived of his asthma and blood pressure medication.

'Destructive crackdown'

Cale Brown, deputy spokesman for the US State Department, said on Friday that the department was "very concerned" over Kamel's detention, as well as the recently arrested employees of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR).

"We urge the government of Egypt to release those detained and to respect fundamental freedoms of expression and association," Brown said on Twitter.

Steven Howard, national outreach director for In Defense of Christians, praised the effort by the senators, saying it is time for Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi "to do the right thing and release this innocent human rights advocate". 

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Coons and Tillis's call was also repeated by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.

The commission called for the "unconditional and immediate release" of Kamel and the recently detained Mohamed Basheer - a human rights worker and EIPR employee arrested by Egyptian authorities after a meeting with Western diplomats.

"While Egypt is a vital partner of the United States, it is long past time that the US government unequivocally and uniformly call out Egypt for this destructive crackdown on civil society, which impedes and undercuts the important progress that the Egyptian government has made on religious freedom in recent years," USCIRF commissioner Frederick Davie said in a statement on Thursday.

Earlier this week, Middle East Eye reported that UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab personally intervened in the case of the EIPR employees arrested in Egypt after meeting European diplomats.