BosNewsLife Middle East Service
CAIRO, EGYPT (BosNewsLife)– A Christian human rights activist and Internet writer spent his first weekend in freedom Saturday, February 14, after he was suddenly released by Egyptian security forces.
Philip Rizk, a dual Egyptian-German citizen, told reporters he was detained last Friday, February 6, and held in solitary confinement for four days while friends, family and German diplomats inquired about his whereabouts and the reasons for his detention.
Then he was abruptly dropped off at his Cairo apartment before dawn Wednesday, February 11.”I was repeatedly questioned about everything and I was terrified,” he said. “Although I was not abused physically, I was blind-folded all the time. Officers kept saying to me: “Do you know what we can do to you?”, and I was threatened with long term imprisonment.”
He said they asked him if he supported the militant group Hamas, was working for Israel, “and, being Christian, if I was an evangelist.” He also studied at the evangelical Wheaton College in Illinois, U.S. and is a graduate student at American University in Cairo.
He said however that he was never informed of any charges against him.
Yet, rights groups say his detention could be linked to his critical writings on the Internet and his participation in a recent small march outside Cairo calling for an end to the blockade of the Gaza Strip — a closure imposed by Egypt and Israel after Hamas gunmen seized control of the Palestinian territory in June 2007.
Rizk called himself lucky because he was held “only a few days” and wasn’t hurt, ascribing that to his dual nationality and a spirited campaign for his release conducted by friends.
Rather than physical abuse, “it was more the threats of what could happen to me if I were not to say the truth,” Rizk said. “I heard sounds of things going on around me,” including screams, he said. “I don’t know if they were recordings or they were actually taking place — people being tortured.”
Human rights groups allege that torture, including sexual abuse, is commonplace for Egypt’s estimated 18,000 political prisoners, including at least half a dozen young Internet writers, also known as bloggers.
Just two hours drive away from Rizk’s neighborhood in Cairo, Amaal Abdel Fattah Taha was red in the face, sobbing in fear, terrified that her son, Diaa Eddin Gad, had been killed by the state. Gad, 23, a high school dropout and blogger, was arrested Friday, Febrary 6, too, when four police officers grabbed him as he stepped outside the door of his family’s apartment.
Like Rizk, he was reportedly taken away after he participated in public demonstrations in support of Gaza — and in opposition to Egypt’s policies toward Gaza. And as in Rizk’s case, the government has not said where he is being held, or why, or when he may come home.
“You think they killed him? Why are they hiding him? Did they kill him?” The International Herald Tribune news paper quoted his mother as saying, while she cried inside their run-down, cramped two-room apartment in a village just north of Tanta, a city in the Nile Delta region.
Risk’s Website Tabula Gaza, highlighting the plight of Palestinians in Gaza, could not be reached Saturday, February 14, after authorities apparently closed it for public viewing. “They have taken my blog down on which I worked since 2006,” Rizk complained.
Security forces also took his, “three digital cameras, one video camera, a mobile phone, an I Pod, thirty CDs and DVDs, a number of books and reference papers, personal documents, sixty camera films, a laptop case, a large travel bag, three hard drives and a handbag containing personal effects,” said the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI).
ANHRI told BosNewsLife it is concerned that the especially seizure “of e-mail passwords” and the blog, “means that they are out of Philip’s control and that therefore any message purportedly published by him, may not necessarily be genuine.”
For now his sister is celebrating his return. “It was really hard because we had so many false alarms that he was being released…Now he has been released, just in time for his [27th] birthday,” she said shorthy after his release. “Before this happened we had planned a big party on our balcony with dancing and food, and now we really have something to celebrate.”
However there is no reason for celebration for many other bloggers and political activists, including Christians, who remain detained in Egypt’s prisons, rights watchers warned. (With reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos).