As Coptic Christians marked Christmas on January 7, the date of its observance by Orthodox Christianity, at least one prominent activist and leader struggling to protect Egyptian Christians from sectarian violence had little or nothing to celebrate.
Ramy Kamel, an Egyptian citizen noted for his work in documenting attacks on Egypt’s Coptic Christian churches and defending the human rights of the minority faith, has spent the last few weeks in pretrial detention in Cairo on reported charges of belonging to a terrorist group and use of social media to spread “false news threatening public order.”
“Kamel’s arrest is a message of intimidation to silence the few remaining voices.”
Kamel was arrested from his home in Cairo in November, questioned and allegedly tortured. Religion News Service’s Mina Nader and Jacob Wirtschafter attribute this to Kamel being “the most visible of the imprisoned Christian activists because of his wide-ranging advocacy,” and quote Ishak Ibrahim, a nonresident of the Tahir Institute for Middle East Policy and minority affairs researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, saying “Kamel’s arrest is a message of intimidation to silence the few remaining voices.”
On January 4, Mina Thabet, London-based head of the Policy Unit of the Egyptian Commission for Human Rights and Freedoms, tweeted, “Supreme State Security Prosecution extended the pretrial detention of Coptic activist #Ramy_Kamel for another 15 days… Ramy is facing a list of charges including belonging to a terrorist group and spreading false news.”
At the time of his arrest, Kamel was applying for a visa to Switzerland, where he expected to speak at the United Nations Forum on Minority Issues in Geneva on November 28 and 29. Ramy has been involved with U.N. human rights mechanisms in the past, especially those pertaining to the forced displacement of Coptic Christians. In a statement issued by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, UN human rights monitors said: “No person should face intimidation, harassment or reprisals of any sort for participation in or contribution to the work of the UN and its human rights mechanisms.
“Mr. Kamel’s alleged arbitrary detention and torture fall into a pattern of raids, arrests and travel bans against human rights defenders, journalists, dissidents and their family members. Individuals who have cooperated or tried to cooperate with UN human rights mechanisms have been repeatedly the target of reprisals,
“We also deeply regret that once again counter-terrorism legislation is being used in Egypt to target human rights defenders with the purpose of quashing their advocacy and suppressing any expression of dissent.”
Egypt cannot pledge improved rights and freedoms for Copts and other non-Muslim communities, while at the same time bringing false charges against its own citizens who are advocating for those same reforms.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) published a statement December 19 strongly condemning Kamel’s arrest. Vice Chair Nadine Maenza called on the Egyptian government “to immediately release Mr. Kamel from detention and dismiss the preposterous charges against him. His arrest casts doubt on the sincerity of Egypt’s promises of working toward greater religious freedom; Egypt cannot pledge improved rights and freedoms for Copts and other non-Muslim communities, while at the same time bringing false charges against its own citizens who are advocating for those same reforms. It must also cease the wider harassment of activists, journalists and others who are advocating for an Egypt in which all of its citizens—Muslims, Christians, and others—can work together to build a stronger society on a foundation of religious and other essential freedoms.”
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