CAIRO (AP) — Egyptian police arrested an activist and researcher who was a vocal critic of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi’s government, the interior ministry and a human rights group said Sunday.
Patrick George Zaki, 27, was detained at Cairo’s international airport after returning from Italy on Friday, according to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, a local NGO, where he works as a researcher. He was taken to the prosecutor’s office in his home city of Mansoura in the Nile Delta.
Zaki’s arrest was the latest in an unprecedented crackdown on dissent waged by El-Sissi in recent years. Thousands have been arrested — both secular-leaning activists and Islamist opponents — all while rolling back freedoms won after the so-called Arab Spring uprising in 2011.
Zaki had been on leave from the NGO since last August while pursuing a master’s degree in gender studies at the University of Bologna, the group said.
The interior ministry, which oversees Egypt’s police, said in a brief statement Sunday that Zaki was being held on a warrant from the prosecution, who ordered him remain in detention pending an investigation.
The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights said Zaki was being investigated over allegations of spreading false news and misuse of social media, as well as claims he called for unauthorized protests.
Egypt outlawed all unauthorized protests in 2013, months after el-Sissi, as defense minister, led the military’s removal of the country’s first democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi, after his one-year rule proved divisive and sparked massive nationwide protests.
The rights group said the investigation includes allegations of managing a social media account that aims to undermine the social order and public safety, as well as incitement to commit violence and terrorist crimes.
In a separate development, the Egyptian military said militants on Sunday attacked a checkpoint in the restive northern part of the Sinai Peninsula.
The military said at least 15 militants were killed following the attack.
Security officials said that the assault in the town of Sheikh Zuweid killed seven troops and wounded 10 more. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.
No group immediately claimed the attack but it bears the hallmarks of an Islamic State affiliate centered in northern Sinai.
Egypt has for years been struggling to contain an Islamic insurgency in the Sinai spearheaded by a local affiliate of the Islamic State group. The militants have also carried out attacks on the mainland.
Associated Press writer Ashraf Sweilam contributed from el-Arish, Northern Sinai.