German-Egyptian activist held at secret site

HOME RAIDED: Officers from the State Security Investigation searched Philip Rizk’s home yesterday but refused to say what they were looking for or why he was detained


Tue, Feb 10, 2009 - Page 6

Egyptian police have arrested a German-Egyptian graduate student after a rally in support of the Palestinians in Gaza and are holding him in a secret location, a fellow activist said on Sunday.

Philip Rizk, a 26-year-old student of Middle Eastern studies at the American University in Cairo, was detained on Friday night after he and 14 activists finished a symbolic, 10km march in Cairo to protest against the blockade of Gaza, and his whereabouts is unknown, anti-torture activist Aida Seif El Dawla said.

Officers from the domestic intelligence agency — the State Security Investigation — searched Rizk’s home early yesterday, his sister and human rights lawyers said.

Around a dozen officers came to Rizk’s family house at around 1:30am, Rizk’s sister Jeannette said. Two officers searched the house while the rest surrounded it.

“Around 15 minutes ago, they came to the door and started ringing the doorbell like crazy. We were all sleeping,” Rizk’s sister said as the officers searched her house. “I am hiding in the bedroom with my mother in the back of the house. My father is out front talking to security.”

She said that when asked for a search warrant, the officers replied, “We are State Security. We don’t need a warrant.”

Human-rights lawyer Gamal Eid, director of the Cairo-based Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, who came to the Rizk’s house after the State Security officers arrived, said that the officers wanted Rizk’s father to come with them to sign a paper that would allow them to release his son. Eid counseled him not to go.

Both Eid and Jeannette Rizk said that an official from the German embassy in Cairo was present, but a spokesman for the embassy said yesterday that he could not comment on the case.

Rizk, whose mother is German and whose father is Egyptian, holds dual nationality.

A friend of Rizk’s, speaking yesterday on condition of anonymity, said that family and friends “don’t wish to antagonize the government. We’re not trying to make any grand statement. We just want Philip released. He’s one of the most peaceful people I’ve met. I’m very worried for him.”

Rizk contributed to a blog about the Gaza Strip that includes recent postings about the 22-day Israeli military offensive against the territory’s Hamas rulers.

Some of the postings criticized the Egyptian government’s response, accusing it of allowing only small numbers of injured Palestinians to cross into Egypt for medical treatment.

Egypt’s government is sensitive to accusations that it contributed to suffering in Gaza by not opening the border to more aid shipments.

A photograph of Rizk taken by other demonstrators at Friday’s rally shows him holding a sign reading: “We have had it. Open Rafah crossing,” referring to the border terminal between Gaza and Egypt.

El Dawla, who runs an organization helping victims of torture called the Nadim Center, said police asking for Rizk by name took him from a group of a fellow protesters traveling back to Cairo on Friday in a minibus. He was then taken away in a van with no license plate.

Authorities have not given a reason for Rizk’s detention or announced any charges against him, El Dawla said.

Friends and supporters of Rizk spread word of his detention on the social networking Web site Facebook.

They also wrote a letter to the board of trustees of the American University to call on them to seek his release.