US senators urge Egypt to release detained Coptic activist

US senators urge Egypt to release detained Coptic activist
Senators Thom Tills and Chris Coons have called on Egypt to release Ramy Kamel or give him a free and fair trial.
3 min read
22 November, 2020
Egypt is facing increasing international pressure over is detention of rights activists [Getty]
A bipartisan pair of US senators have urged Egypt to release a Coptic Christian activist imprisoned for a year.

Republican Thom Tills and Democrat Chris Coons, co-chairs of the Senate Human Rights Caucus, wrote to the Egyptian embassy in Washington DC last month about detainee Ramy Kamel.

"Mr. Kamel has been held under the unclear charges of defamation, funding a terrorist organisation, and the misuse of social media. We urge the Egyptian government to honour Mr. Kamel's right to a fair trial or to release him entirely of the charges held against him," Tills and Coons wrote in the letter seen by The Hill.

The Hill's report this week comes as Cairo faces increasing international pressure over its detention of rights activists including members of advocacy group Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR).

Three of the group's staff members have been detained over the past week.

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Kamel was arrested in November last year and accused of terror links.

Rights advocates accuse the Egyptian government of targeting him over his work about religious minorities in Egypt, however.

Kamel had been due to testify before the United Nations Forum on Minority Issues shortly after he was detained.

The activist has been subjected to torture and denied access to medication while in detention, according to the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner.

Kamel founded the Maspero Youth Union, a Coptic human rights organisation born in the wake of the January 2011 protests that toppled longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak.

Coptic Christians, the largest non-Muslim religious minority in the Middle East, make up about 10-15 percent of Egypt's predominantly Sunni Muslim population and have long faced sectarian discrimination.

In recent years, the community has also been targeted by  militant attacks, including by the Islamic State extremist group.

"Mr. Kamel has dedicated his life to researching the plight of the Coptic community in Egypt and defending their religious liberties, and we fear his detention is a result of this activism," the senators wrote.

While questioning Kamel's detention, the senators' letter struck a conciliatory and friendly tone, appealing to Egypt as a "steadfast partner of the United States and supporter of religious liberty".

The senators' call was echoed on Thursday by United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, which issued a statement urging the "inconditional and immediate release" of Kamel and EIPR staffer Mohamed Basheer.

"While Egypt's recent initiatives to promote interfaith tolerance, protect religious heritage sites, and legaliwe hundreds of churches deserve support and encouragement, we cannot stand idly by while it continues to harshly punish honorable advocates for religious freedom and broader human rights," the commission's vice chair, Tony Perkins, said.

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