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Pro-Palestinian Activist Released in Cairo After Arrest

Egyptian authorities have released a 26-year-old German-Egyptian Internet blogger, five days after he was arrested following a march supporting Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

American University in Cairo graduate student Philip Rizk, who wrote about the plight of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, was held for five days after marching with 15 others through Cairo carrying pro-Palestinian banners.

During the past year, the Egyptian government has been cracking down on bloggers and independent activists. The latest arrests are seen by analysts as a result of Egypt becoming increasingly sensitive to criticism about its response to Israel's Gaza offensive.

Travis Randall, a protester who was not arrested, told VOA that Rizk was singled out because he was a march organizer and one of the few who also held Egyptian citizenship. Randall believes it was Rizk's dual German-Egyptian citizenship and pressure by the international community that led to his release late Tuesday.

"I think it is a shame that the international community only moves that quickly when someone has international connections," he said. "They know him as an outspoken person, but not a revolutionary outspoken person. But someone who wants to see the way that people think about Gaza and understand the situation there changed."

A Cairo-based human rights group, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, said this week that bloggers have become a major target of the Egyptian police. The group accused authorities of cracking down on activists outside the law, or under the cloak of the state of emergency.

Popular anger in Egypt over the Gaza war has been running high. Many feel that Egypt could have done more to support the Palestinians.

Rizk's family said that secret police searched through and confiscated his hard drives, cameras, iPod, books and other property.

Randall, who is an American citizen, said that some of the other protesters were visited at their homes by state security asking them questions. Randall fled until Philip's release last night.

"It was recommended that we do not stay at home and so I have stayed at a friend's house and been careful not say on the phone which friend's house I was staying at or where that was," he said. "And if that is a little bit strange or overly precautious to lie low for a few days, if it was intimidation tactics only, it worked because I think a lot of us were intimidated. I went home last night for the first time in three days."

Randall said Rizk spoke to him briefly after his release and is urging people to focus on the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

"He wants us to throw our energies into that in the same way that we threw our energy into having him released, because he was arrested for a reason," said Randall. "He was arrested defending the human rights of other people and he believes in it enough. He is one man who has been in prison for four days, but he is speaking out over a people who are essentially imprisoned just on our near border."

Within hours of Rizk's detention a Facebook group with thousands of members had been founded, as well as a Web page dedicated to the campaign. Small but spirited rallies were held for his release around Cairo and in Europe and the United States.