Egypt’s human rights group leader arrested




By Mark Huband in Cairo

Financial Times, 3 December 1998

Egyptian police yesterday arrested the secretary general of the country’s main human rights organisation, after accusations that the British embassy paid it to write a report which exposed police brutality against civilians.

Hafez Abu Seada, secretary general of the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights (EOHR), was arrested and committed to 15 days’ detention after being accused of treason and false reporting by a Cairo newspaper, el-Osboa. He faces a prison sentence with hard labour if he is found guilty. The newspaper claimed “an enemy foreign embassy” on October 8 1998 paid the EOHR $ 25,703 to write a report on a month-long murder investigation carried out by police in the Egyptian town of Al-Kosheh in August.

During the investigation, up to 1,200 people, mainly minority Coptic Christians, were interrogated as police attempted to find the murderer of two Moslems. Many of those interrogated were tortured and their experiences were brought to light when the EOHR investigated their claims.

The government has been embarrassed by the exposure of the brutality, which the EOHR report and other witnesses concluded was not anti-Christian, but simply exposed the poor relations between the police and civilians in general.

The arrest of Mr Abu Seada is regarded by human rights organisations as a backlash by the security forces in response to the revelations.

The accusations made by Mustapha Bakri, el-Osboa’s editor-in-chief, are based on a bankers’ draft sent by the British embassy in Cairo to the EOHR specifically to finance a legal advice centre for Egyptian women, which the embassy had funded since 1996 when it took over financing of the centre from the Dutch government.

Speaking from abroad through a journalist at the newspaper yesterday, Mr Bakri said that “the linkage between the embassy cheque and the al-Kosheh report was based on the length of time between the two, and the fact that it was the first time the British embassy had issued [such] a cheque”.

The newspaper offered no conclusive proof to substantiate its accusations. However, Egypt’s{A state security prosecutor ordered Mr Abu Seada’s arrest on the basis of its claims. A British embassy official yesterday insisted the sum granted to the EOHR was for the legal aid project and was deposited in a special account for this purpose and for which an annual financial statement would be required.

The government is regarded by human rights activists as having embarked on a campaign to vilify the EOHR for highlighting the police brutality, without taking steps to curb police excesses.

The fact of the accusations having appeared in el-Osboa has, in itself, raised suspicion among human rights lawyers. Associates of Mr Bakri are known secretly to have recorded an EOHR board meeting which followed publication of the newspaper’s claims, at which it was agreed the money would be returned to the embassy and that all future foreign donations would be rejected as a demonstration of its neutrality.


© Financial Times