Egyptian regime expands policy of arresting researchers abroad

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The Supreme State Security Prosecution decided to imprison a master’s researcher, Ahmed Samir Santawi, for 15 days pending investigations, on charges of spreading false news and using a special account on social media for that purpose, in addition to joining a terrorist group. Santawi finally appeared in the Supreme State Security Prosecution days after his enforced disappearance upon his arrival at the State Security Sector headquarters.

Egyptian opponents say that the Egyptian regime looks with concern at any Egyptian researcher who succeeds in Europe or any European researcher interested in the Egyptian issue. Lawyer Nabih al-Janadi said that Samir told the prosecution that he was slapped on the face several times during his detention inside the National Security headquarters in the First Settlement Police Department.

Samir said that the officer who interrogated him at the time of his detention asked him about his relationship with Ultras Ahlawy and the Muslim Brotherhood. Samir frequently confirmed that he was not affiliated with either of them.

Abdel-Rahman Samir (Ahmed’s brother) said on Saturday that he learned from the department that his brother, researcher Ahmed Samir Santawi, went to the National Security Office in the Fifth Settlement Department last Monday morning and stayed until Wednesday morning (February 3). After that, he was transferred to the first assembly section. Samir remained in the National Security Bureau for another two days, until last Thursday evening, after which he disappeared from the First Settlement Department and was transferred to an unknown destination before appearing today in the Supreme State Security Prosecution.

Samir’s imprisonment comes at a time when Michael Ignatieff, president of the Central European University in Austria, where Samir studies, called, in a statement, last Thursday, for the Egyptian authorities to release him and return him to his family so he can resume his studies immediately. Samir’s brother recounts the facts of his brother’s security pursuit since his return to Egypt in mid-December until he went to the Fifth Settlement police headquarters last Monday, saying that for the past two years during which his brother travelled to study a master’s in social sciences at Central European University in Austria, he was arrested by National Security at the airport when returning to Egypt or going to Austria. He pointed out that he was asked about the reasons for his travel and the nature of his studies, adding: “Each time they asked him two questions and let him leave.” He adds that the same thing was repeated during Ahmed’s last visit when he was arrested at the airport in mid-December, after which they released him as usual, and Ahmed went afterwards to spend some time in Dahab, South Sinai.

Abdul Rahman said, “On January 23, we were surprised that a security force came to our house in the Fifth Settlement. They searched our phones and asked my father to inform them of the contracts for tenants of residential units in the property in which we live.” “The security forces searched the shop in the property, and before they left, they asked about Ahmed and asked us to tell him to go to the National Security Office at the Fifth Settlement Police Department upon his return home.” Indeed, Samir responded to National Security officers’ request and went to them to answer their questions so that his travel and study would not be disrupted. Although Ahmed Samir and his family expected that it would not take more than a few hours, especially since he had not been involved in any political work for many years, the period of enforced disappearance lasted longer, and he was referred to the prosecution.

Samir went to the Fifth Settlement Department on January 30 and informed him of the necessity to return on Monday, February 1. Ahmed Samir responded to the request of the National Security officers. Still, since he arrived at the headquarters on February 1, he has not been released, and none of the state’s security or judicial agencies has announced the reasons why.

The Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression described in a statement last Thursday Samir’s detention as “illegal” and said that it confirms “a pattern of restrictions on researchers and scientific research.” She noted that Patrick George Zaki, a master’s student at the University of Bologna, Italy, has completed a year of pretrial detention since his arrest at Cairo Airport last year, while he was returning on vacation.

The organisation’s statement also mentioned Walid Salem’s arrest, a doctoral researcher at the University of Washington, in March 2018, while he was in Egypt for investigation after interviews related to his field research. He was detained after that. Salem was released in December 2018 but has so far been banned from travel.