In a letter to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak made public today, Human Rights Watch condemned the detention of Hafez Abu Sa'da, a lawyer and secretary-general of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR).

On December 1, state security prosecutors accused Abu Sa'da of three criminal offenses: disseminating information abroad that harmed Egypt's national interests; accepting funds from a foreign country with the goal of carrying out acts harmful to Egypt; and receiving donations without government permission. He was questioned and then ordered imprisoned for fifteen days while the investigation continues. As of this writing, authorities have not made known the location where Abu Sa'da is being held.

"This is a shocking development," said Hanny Megally, executive director of the Middle East and North Africa Division of Human Rights Watch. "The government should be investigating and prosecuting torturers in the police and security forces, not sending human rights activists to prison."

Prosecutors took action against Abu Sa'da in the wake of continuing controversy inside and outside Egypt surrounding alleged police abuse of hundreds of mainly Christian residents in al-Kosheh, in Upper Egypt, following two murders there in August 1998. EOHR issued a report about police behavior, "Collective punishment in al-Kosheh village: Random arrest, torture and degrading treatment of citizens," published in September. EOHR was also attacked in the Egyptian press for accepting funding from abroad to finance its activities.
Human Rights Watch has called for the immediate release of Abu Sa'da, and an end to government harassment and intimidation of Egyptian human rights organizations. "The investigation and imprisonment of the head of EOHR sets an extremely dangerous precedent," added Megally. "The state is trampling on the right to freedom of expression and association to silence critics of its poor human rights record."