Blogger/activist reveals Egypt's 'state of fear'

By THE MEDIA LINE NEWS AGENCY/ JOSEPH MAYTON
February 15, 2009 12:28

The Media Line reports on the case of Phillip Rizk, his five days in police custody and the freedom to protest.




Blogger/activist reveals Egypt's 'state of fear'

egypt gaza protest 248 88. (photo credit: AP)

Phillip Rizk began last Friday in the same manner he hoped to begin his Saturday morning: in his own bed. By the evening that was no longer a possibility after he and a group of activists participating in a peace march to support Palestinians in Gaza were held at a police station north of Cairo for five hours. Although he was released in the early morning hours of Wednesday four days later, his arrest and detention have heightened fears among activists that the government will not accept any dissent, especially involving its role with the Palestinian issue. "What happened for a period of four days is that I did nothing much more than answer questions while being interrogated, or sleeping, or trying to sleep," Rizk told reporters gathered on his balcony in a leafy suburb on Thursday, which was also his birthday. "I was blindfolded the entire time, was wearing handcuffs the entire time except for a few occasions," usually during questioning, he said. He added that he was allowed only one shower. After completing their six-mile "To Gaza" march starting in a Cairo neighborhood, the 15 international and Egyptian activists began to pile into a minivan that would take them back to central Cairo. They were hastily interrupted by police who surrounded their vehicle, demanding to see their identification papers. Rizk, who holds both German and Egyptian citizenships, and had spent two years in Gaza, was singled out. Police demanded he be questioned inside the station, but the activists refused to give in, rightfully fearing that he would be arrested and detained. Mohsen Bashir from the Hisham Mubarak Law Center, who had been helping the activists deal with police, agreed to accompany Rizk inside the station. "Police told us they would question him for 30 minutes and then he would be released," American activist Travis Randall related. Soon after he was taken inside, at around 11:15 pm, the remaining demonstrators received word that Rizk was being transferred from the station, and they formed a line in front of the gate, blocking vehicular passage. According to Randall and other activists present, the vehicle carrying Rizk powered through their human wall. A journalist and a representative from the Nadim Center - a Cairo-based human rights organization - attempted to follow the vehicle, but were cut off by a makeshift checkpoint. He was gone. There were no traces of Rizk, and for two days the government denied arresting him. On Saturday, the remaining 14 activists from Friday's march held a sit-in in front of the highest appellate court in central Cairo in order to give their statements. Some 40 other lawyers and activists joined them in showing their solidarity. Nothing substantial manifested itself on Saturday. Rizk, a popular blogger at Tabula Gaza (tabulagaza.blogspot.com), had recently completed work on a short documentary on non-violent resistance to the Israeli occupation and had been helping to get medicine into Gaza after a 22-day war left more than 1,300 Palestinians dead. His family, worried about their son's disappearance, was visited on at least two occasions by security forces as police tried to intimidate them into giving incriminating evidence against Rizk. "At 1:30am [Monday] when we had just gone to bed, the doorbell rang. Five plain clothed men and two in full riot gear and machine guns stood outside our door. They wanted to enter to search the house," the family wrote on a Facebook website created to update concerned friends and colleagues of Rizk's disappearance. "We found out that they were looking for evidence against Philip. Two men entered and began searching through the papers of our home office. In the meantime we contacted a German Embassy official and a professor from AUC as well as some friends. They all came immediately," the posting added. The following day, Rizk's sister Jeannette reported that "secret police" had entered her apartment, which she shared with her brother, in search of incriminating evidence. "Phillip's hard drives, cameras, iPod, as well as several boxes of books, including both intellectual and material property are missing from the apartment. No money was taken," she wrote. According to her, the "intruders used Phillip's key" and proceeded to leave it on the desk when they left. She did not know what they were looking for and "no incriminating evidence of any sort could possibly be found, as none exists; the impunity with which personal property was taken is deeply disturbing." Even more disturbing for other activists was the feeling of constant threat to their own safety. A number of the international participants went to their local embassies in Cairo for advice on how to deal with security forces "searching" for them in order to further question them over Rizk. An American Embassy in Cairo spokesperson told The Media Line on Wednesday that all they could do was to have their citizens fill out a form detailing their situation. "This is Egyptian law and unless our citizen is fearful of his life or complete safety, we do not intervene," the spokesperson said. "They told me to fill out some papers, but nothing more," Randall said. The American had been avoiding his home in Cairo after warnings of police searches taking place at other activists' homes, and had been sleeping at a friend's house. Rizk's detention created a worldwide stir over the Egyptian government's continued crackdown on activists of conscience. Bloggers have been the number one target of such attacks, Gamal Eid of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) told The Media Line. "Bloggers have become the main targets of the security authorities in the country and all these continued assaults are committed outside the law or under the cloak of the emergency state," he said. He pointed to a second arrest on Friday of another blogger in northern Egypt. Diaeddin Gad, 22, who runs the Angry Voice blog, was taken from the Nile Delta governorate of Gharbiyah, security sources confirmed, without providing any further information. According to ANHRI, he was beaten in public view shortly after being arrested. According to government sources, the young blogger was arrested over comments he made that were critical of Cairo's involvement during the recent 22-day war against Hamas by Israel. Many Egyptians and Arabs believe Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak had knowledge of the attack days before it began on December 27 but did nothing to stop it. They also accuse the government of doing little to ease Palestinian suffering during the bombardment and land attack by keeping the Rafah Border Closing closed throughout the conflict, letting only a handful of wounded Palestinians into Egypt. Rizk's arrest and detention has highlighted the ongoing struggle between the opposition and government. Many wonder if the situation is getting better, or if the government's actions signal an upsurge in the ill-treatment of non-violent activists. "This could be the end for the government. It is getting so bad that now they have to resort to violence, kidnapping and holding people who are completely non-violent and were not even demonstrating against the Egyptian government," one activist told The Media Line. She asked not to be named due to the security threats already against her. "When it gets this bad, there has to be an end game, and the way the government is creating so many enemies and putting their atrocities on the international stage, I believe they know their time is running out," she added. Of continuing activism, Rizk hopes those involved will continue to press on and called on all protests to continue despite his arrest.


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