CAIRO — Egyptian security forces confiscated copies of a human rights group’s newsletter and arrested a print shop worker, saying the publication threatened the government, the head of the group said Sunday.
Gamal Eid, of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, said police seized 1,000 copies of the publication, entitled Wasla, or Link, from the printers the night before. Lawyers said investigators accused the worker of illegally printing material that advocates the overthrow of the government and of belonging to a terrorist group, in reference to the Muslim Brotherhood, said Rawda Ahmed, a lawyer for the group.
The government declared the Brotherhood a terrorist organization last year and has cracked down on its members and activities.
It was not clear if ANHRI itself or the content of the newsletter was the source of the accusations, Ahmed said.
In a statement, the group said the worker is not responsible for the published material, and denied it was “seditious.” The worker will continue to be held pending further investigation from the national security agency, and Eid has been called in for questioning Monday, Ahmed said.
ANHRI is an Egyptian human rights and legal center focusing on freedom of expression and Internet freedom in the region.
The newsletter is a digest of blogs and social media content that has been distributed to select readers by mail since 2010. The current issue focused on newly elected President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, with activists discussing the sources of his popularity. One of the contributors argued in favor of el-Sissi’s left-wing opponent in the elections, while another supported voting for el-Sissi, saying he would keep Egypt a secular state. The issue also included an article on journalist who works for Qatar-based broadcaster al-Jazeera who has been in detention since last year, without formal charges and on hunger strike for over 100 days in protest.
Security officials were not immediately available for comment.
Eid called the accusations “ludicrous,” and feared they were the start of a crackdown on civil groups critical of the government. He said the confiscation broke the law and was unconstitutional, giving an ominous sign for freedom of expression under the new president, just a week into his term.
Egypt’s newly amended constitution states that censorship or confiscation of publications is prohibited, permitting “limited censorship in times of war or general mobilization.”
Since last year’s overthrow of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, the government has shuttered the Brotherhood’s daily newspaper and closed a number of Islamist TV stations.
Also on Sunday, police seized a number of supermarket chains in Cairo and its twin city of Giza, owned by a deputy leader of the Brotherhood, Khairat el-Shater, currently in jail, and another wealthy businessman considered a supporter of the group. A government committee has been inventorying the assets of the group and has already ordered the assets of over 500 members seized. Schools and charity groups operated by the Brotherhood have already been targeted by the decision, part of government moves to cripple it by severing its finances.
The head of the committee that reviewed the Brotherhood assets, Ezzat Khamis, told local media that 42 branches of the two stores were being inventoried and will be handed over to a government appointed agent to run.
The Brotherhood denies it adopts violence and has kept up its protests against the current authorities.
The supermarkets are among the better known businesses linked to the group, and employ thousands of staff. An economist with a major investment bank said the confiscation Sunday was expected and is in line with government policy to go after the group, downplaying it would have an impact on the general investment atmosphere in Egypt. He agreed to speak on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive business matter.
El-Sissi has made it a priority to attract foreign and domestic investment to help Egypt’s ailing economy. He has so far gained strong financial support from Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and other Gulf countries, who opposed the Brotherhood’s rise to power.
Also Sunday, the trial of the brother of al-Qaida leader Ayman el-Zawahri, a native Egyptian, opened but was adjourned swiftly because security officials couldn’t secure his presence in court. Mohammed el-Zawahri was referred to trial along with 67 others in April on charges of forming and leading a terrorist group linked to al-Qaida and planning attacks. El-Zawahri, arrested after Morsi’s ouster, had been freed from prison following the 2011 ouster of Hosni Mubarak.