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Egypt arrests mother cited in BBC report, lawyer disappears

The statements made in the BBC report angered Egyptian authorities [AFP]

Date of publication: 2 March, 2018

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Egyptian authorities arrested a mother that was interviewed in a BBC report on Friday, according to activists who said her lawyer has gone missing.

An Egyptian mother who accused the police of torturing her daughter in a BBC news report was arrested on Friday, reports said, noting the the human rights lawyer who first publicly mentioned her detention has gone missing.

Mona Mahmoud Mohammed, known as Oum Zubeida - who angered authorities for her accusations in a “foreign news report” - was arrested for 15 days pending investigations into her statements, the public prosecutor ordered 

The report, which went online and was televised a week ago, addressed torture and forced disappearances under President Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi.

The state-run news agency MENA reported that Mohammed is facing an array of charges, including spreading false news with the intent to harm the national interest, as well as belonging to the banned Muslim Brotherhood, which Egypt has designated as a terrorist organisation.

Meanwhile, lawyer Ezzat Ghoneim of the Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms, who was the first to report Mohammed’s Wednesday arrest and had criticised authorities’ handling of her daughter publicly, went missing on his way home on Thursday evening.

“No one has seen or heard from him since,” said Ahmed el-Attar of the group, which has started an online campaign seeking information about him but assumes he has been arrested. Ghoneim has long supported victims of alleged police torture, the disappeared, and their families in Egypt.

“It’s a shame since all he’s been doing is helping Egyptians understand their legal rights,” said el-Attar, whose group had followed the case of Mohammed’s daughter, Zubeida, and helped her mother file a complaint to police when she went missing.

The moves are the latest episode in Egypt’s ongoing assault on free speech and the media, which most recently has focused on foreign journalists and those who work with them, both of whom are regularly denounced in state and private media.

Entitled "The Shadow Over Egypt", the BBC programme profiled Egyptians jailed since President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi overthrew the country's first democratically-elected government in 2013.

It was released just weeks before Sisi's virtually unopposed re-election bid for the Egyptian presidency. Potential challengers have been arrested or sidelined as voting between 26-28 March fast approaches.

Following the BBC's report on 23 February, the State Information Service - which accredits foreign media in Egypt - urged people to refuse interviews with the British broadcaster until a formal apology was issued. 

The accreditation body also wants the broadcaster to issue a statement saying the report contained inaccuracies.

According to Reuters, a BBC spokesperson said: "We are aware of the reports about this BBC story on Egyptian TV and of the comments of the head of the State Information Service. We stand by the integrity of our reporting teams."

Earlier this week, the BBC  told The New Arab in an emailed statement that it gave the "State Information Service and a number of other Egyptian government departments ample opportunity to respond to the allegations but they chose not to".

The BBC report has dominated headlines in Egypt over recent days, with pro-government commentators saying it defamed Egypt and inspired Muslim Brotherhood propaganda.

Since 2013, Egyptian authorities have sentenced hundreds to death and arrested tens of thousands following the ouster of former president Mohammed Morsi.

Sisi has overseen the crackdown. Though Islamists have been largely targeted in the sweep, secularists and pro-democracy activists have also been jailed.

Sisi has dismissed widespread criticism from rights groups, arguing that Western standards of human rights do not apply in Egypt.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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