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UN chief concerned by arrest of Egyptian rights lawyer

Azza Soliman has had her assets frozen by Egyptian authorities [Twitter]

Date of publication: 8 December, 2016

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UN chief Ban Ki-moon expressed concern on Wednesday over the arrest of a prominent Egyptian human rights lawyer, warning authorities in Cairo against progressively shutting down freedom of expression.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern on Wednesday over the arrest of a prominent Egyptian human rights lawyer, warning authorities in Cairo against progressively shutting down freedom of expression.

Egyptian police arrested Azza Soliman, who founded the Center for Egyptian Women's Legal Assistance, at her home and briefly detained her for questioning on allegations of taking foreign funds to "harm national interests," according to her lawyer.

"This is the latest manifestation of the progressive closing of space for the public exchange of views in Egypt," said UN spokesman Farhan Haq.

"The secretary-general underscores the important role that civil society and NGOs play in assisting governments to meet both developmental and civil objectives," he added.

The move came months after an Egyptian court froze the assets of five other human rights defenders and three non-governmental organisations for allegedly receiving illicit foreign funds.

"This is a new development," said lawyer Gamal Eid, one of the activists whose assets were frozen.

"I think they are escalating, step by step," he said, referring to Soliman's arrest.

Soliman was banned from travel last month. She also learned that her bank account had been frozen and that she was included in the investigation into the civil society groups, Eid said.

The United Nations said it was "extremely concerned" by the September decision to freeze the assets of the activists and NGOs, which stoked fears of an intensified crackdown on civil society.

Amnesty International called the arrest a "worrying escalation".

"Soliman's arrest is the latest chilling example of the Egyptian authorities' systematic persecution of independent human rights defenders.

We believe she has been arrested for her legitimate human rights work and must be released immediately and unconditionally.

The intimidation and harassment of human rights activists has to stop," said Najia Bounaim, Deputy Director for Campaigns at Amnesty International's Tunis Regional office.



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