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Egypt's leading activist sends 1st letter from jail

April 6 Youth movement founder Ahmed Maher, a symbol of the 2011 revolt, writes a stinging letter on a handkerchief from his detention against state rights campaigners saying they back authorities' oppression

Ayat Al-Tawy, Wednesday 18 Dec 2013
Ahmed Maher
Ahmed Maher, founder of the April 6 Youth movement, turning himself in at Abdeen court in Cairo 30 November, 2013 (Photo: Reuters)
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Challenging a ban on detainees' correspondence, the leader of a prominent Egyptian youth group sent his first letter from jail written on a handkerchief, lashing out at the state's human rights body seemingly for inaction towards the arrests of activists.

Ahmed Maher, founder of the April 6 Youth Movement that helped ignite the 2011 uprising, accused members of the National Council for Human Rights of adopting a discourse marred by "discrimination, hatred and incitement," and of being stalwarts of the regime who support police oppression and abuses by the authorities.

Maher, a symbol of the revolt that toppled former autocrat Hosni Mubarak, is currently behind bars and stands trial on charges of organising unlicensed demonstrations and assaulting police officers. A court is expected to deliver a verdict on his case, where two other leading activists also face allegations, on 22 December.

He singled out for his censure council member Mohamed Abdel-Aziz, who is also a co-founder of the grassroots Rebel (Tamarod) campaign which spearheaded the mass nationwide protests that toppled Islamist president Mohamed Morsi. Maher wondered how Abdel-Aziz, who he claimed was once a police pawn who reported against activists before the revolution, is a member of the rights institution.

"A rights campaigner should not have a political orientation," Maher argued in a letter photographed and posted on Facebook by his group late on Tuesday.

"There is no difference between this council and the sham ones formed by Mubarak before the [2011] revolution," he wrote.

The activists' trial has fuelled fears of a broadening crackdown on public dissent, beyond a sustained campaign on Islamists.

Since the July ouster of Morsi, authorities have arrested thousands of his Islamist loyalists, including much of the leadership of his Muslim Brotherhood movement.

Maher was apprehended after his supporters allegedly scuffled with police outside a Cairo court late in November, when he was handing himself in for questioning over allegations he had organised an illegal protest.

Long-time activist Ahmed Douma and April 6 member Mohamed Adel also face trial in the same case. The activists are accused of several charges including assaulting police officers and joining a protest without seeking a police permit as required by a new disputed protest law.

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