Rights groups call on Egypt authorities to free journalist

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NEW YORK (AP) — The Committee to Protect Journalists and Amnesty International are calling for the Egyptian government to release a journalist who they say has been detained by security officials, and investigate allegations that she has been beaten and tortured in custody.

The groups said Esraa Abdel Fattah, a writer and human rights activist who works on the Tahrir News website, was taken from her car by security officers Sunday in a city west of Cairo. According to her lawyers, the officers took her to an undisclosed location where they physically assaulted her and choked her with her own clothing while asking for her cellphone password and forcing her to remain standing for several hours while handcuffed.

Her lawyers said Egyptian authorities have charged Abdel Fattah with spreading false news, membership in a banned group and social media misuse, and ordered her back to detention for 15 days.

"Egyptian authorities must immediately free Esraa Abdel Fattah, drop all charges against her, and conduct a speedy and transparent investigation into allegations that she was tortured by security forces," said Sherif Mansour, Middle East and North Africa coordinator for CPJ. "Abdel Fattah should never have been arrested, let alone subject to the horrific treatment her lawyers say she has received in custody."

"The manner of her arrest — being abducted by plainclothes officers and taken away in a van in public — marks an alarming new trend in the way Egyptian authorities target human rights defenders," said Najia Bounaim, director of North Africa campaigns at Amnesty International.

CPJ reported that Egyptian authorities have surveilled her and banned her from leaving the country since 2016. The group said Abdel Fattah is one of at least seven journalists who have been arrested in Egypt anti-government protests that began last month.

Tahrir News is the digital counterpart of al-Tahrir newspaper; CPJ said its reporting showed the website has been blocked within Egypt for the last several months.

Egypt cracked down on unusual anti-government protests last month. More than 2,000 people, including rights lawyers, activists, journalists and several foreign nationals, were arrested, lawyers said, but the country's general prosecutor said no more than 1,000 people were questioned.

The government has banned all unauthorized street protests and has blocked hundreds of websites, including some run by independent media and human rights groups.

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