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Cablegate: Update On Detention of Meca Activists

VZCZCXYZ0222
OO RUEHWEB

DE RUEHEG #3351 3321647
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 281647Z NOV 07
FM AMEMBASSY CAIRO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 7571
INFO RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC

UNCLAS CAIRO 003351

SIPDIS

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

NSC STAFF FOR WATERS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PHUM PGOV EG
SUBJECT: UPDATE ON DETENTION OF MECA ACTIVISTS

REF: CAIRO 3256

1. (SBU) Summary: Three members of the Toronto-based
Middle Eastern Christians Association (MECA) arrested on
November 10 (ref) remain in custody. In a November 25
meeting, their lawyer expressed "cautious optimism" that they
will be released soon. The lawyer also provided additional
details regarding the arrests, including some excerpts from
internet discussions that may have been the basis for the
detentions. Post has raised the case on numerous occasions
with GoE interlocutors, but we have not received an
explanation of the charges or any prediction on the outcome
of the case. End summary.

2. (SBU) On November 25, we met with the lawyer, Ramzi El
Naggar, and his son and partner, Peter. El Naggar said that
the three had not yet been charged, but that a judge had
extended the detention for an additional fifteen days. El
Naggar said he is in regular contact with the public
prosecutor investigating the case, and expressed "cautious
optimism" that the three will be released, without charges,
at the end of the current fifteen day period. If the three
are released, El Naggar said the case will be held in
abeyance, giving the prosecutor the option to file formal
charges in the future.

3. (SBU) El Naggar provided additional information about
the basis for the arrests. At least two of the three
detainees engaged in religious discussions on the "Pal Talk"
internet site. El Naggar acknowledged that some of the
comments posted by his clients could be considered offensive
by Muslims. In Naggar's office, we also listened to excerpts
from the internet discussions, which were in Arabic. These
included sexual and scatological references to Mohamed and
his wife, Aisha. We were unable to download these
discussions ourselves from the website and conclude they are
no longer available. The audio stream downloaded by Naggar
would indeed be incriminating under Egyptian law. The
comments were made in the context of similar remarks by
Muslim discussion participants regarding Christian religious
figures.

4. (SBU) We have raised these arrests on numerous occasions
with GoE interlocutors. On November 12, the DCM raised the
case with Deputy Foreign Minister Wael Abdoulmagd.
Abdoulmagd agreed to look into the case, but in a telephone
conversation on November 25, he said he had no information.
In a meeting on November 27, Abdoulmagd repeated that he
still had no information. In a November 28 conversation,
Abdoulmagd said that he had made appropriate inquiries but
still had no information. Also on November 28, we raised the
case with the State Security Investigative Services official
responsible for human rights, Colonel Hisham Abdel Hamid.
Abdel Hamid said that he was unable to comment on the case as
it was now "in the hands" of the Public Prosecutor's Office.
Our Justice Attach will meet with the Public Prosecutor's
deputy later this week and raise our concerns with that
office as well.

5. (SBU) GoE motives in this case are unclear. Our GoE
interlocutors recognize the attention this case has
attracted. A Coptic political activist suggested to us that
this may be an attempt by the GoE to appear "balanced" in the
wake of recent arrests of Muslim Brotherhood members. Other
sources suggest the Ministry of Interior regards MECA as
provocative and capable of stirring religious animosity and
possibly violence between Copts and Muslims. They hope that
a few weeks in jail will persuade these individuals to adopt
a less provocative approach.
RICCIARDONE

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