Egypt Detains Human Rights Lawyer on his way to UN Conference

Egyptian authorities detained a human rights lawyer who was involved in the investigation of the murder of an Italian student, presumed to have been murdered by the Egyptian government, the Associated Press reported on Thursday.

Ibrahim Metwally was arrested on Sept. 10 at the Cairo airport as he was heading to Geneva, Switzerland, to address the United Nations Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances. He was charged with establishing an illegal group and is being held in Egypt's high security Tora prison.Russian Presidential Press and Information Office CC BY 3.0

Metwally co-founded the Association of the Families of the Disappeared after his son disappeared during the 2013 coup d'etat that ended with Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and the military overthrowing Muhammad Morsi's democratically elected government.

Just last month, el-Sisi’s government ratified a law stating NGOs are not allowed to pursue any activities that could risk harming Egypt's "national security, public order, public morality, or public health," the BBC reported.

The law allows the government to monitor projects and control where NGOs get their funding from. Punishment for violating this law could result in 1-5 years in jail and a fine ranging between US$ 2,830 - US$ 56,600.

Authorities have also enforced travel bans, frozen assets of human rights groups, blocked hundreds of websites among other fear-mongering and obstructive censoring tactics.

Metwally’s group has come across over 1,300 disappearance cases up to date. Unsurprisingly given the nature of el-Sisi’s regime, most individuals reported "disappeared" ended up in state custody with terrorism charges against them. Metwally also belonged to the legal team representing Giulio Regenia, an Italian graduate student who was tortured to death in Egypt last year.

Regenia's murder has strained relations between Egypt and Italy as Italy maintains that Egyptian authorities did not fully investigate Regenia's disappearance and murder. The Italian ambassador to Egypt left Cairo in protest last year. A new Italian ambassador however arrived in Cairo on Sept. 13 and will be reopening Regenia's unresolved case.

Egyptian human rights campaigners maintain that Regenia was a victim of ongoing Egyptian police brutality.

"The government strategy at the moment is to lock down Egypt and isolate it from the rest of the world, ensuring only the voice of the government comes out," said Mohamed Lotfy, a prominent human rights activist.

Ever since el-Sisi overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi's government in 2013, the country has fallen into a seemingly irreversible rabbit hole complete with on-going corruption and sanctioned freedom of speech.

The European Parliament's Subcommittee on Human Rights has demanded Egypt to release Metwally immediately.

"It is unacceptable that a prominent lawyer should vanish at an airport,” the press release said.

"The continued practice of detaining the families of people subjected to enforced disappearance reflects the persistent trend of harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders, lawyers and ordinary citizens by the Egyptian authorities through the misuse of the criminal justice system," said Pier Antonio Panzeri, chair of the European Parliament's subcommittee on Human Rights.