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UN Rights Experts Urge Egypt to Free Couple Unlawfully Detained

FILE - Egyptian security forces detain supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi as they clear a sit-in camp set up near Cairo University in Cairo's Giza district, Egypt, Aug. 14, 2013.
FILE - Egyptian security forces detain supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi as they clear a sit-in camp set up near Cairo University in Cairo's Giza district, Egypt, Aug. 14, 2013.

The daughter of the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood and her husband have been unlawfully detained in Egypt for the past year without formal charge, U.N. human rights experts said on Thursday, calling for the couple’s release and compensation.

The Cairo government, in its reply published in the U.N. opinion, said that Ola al-Qaradawi and Hosam Khalaf were accused of belonging to the banned Muslim Brotherhood, which it says is a terrorist group, and providing financial support to it with the help of Qatar and Turkey.

Qatar and Turkey denying supporting hardline Islamists, though both enjoyed good ties with former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The family denies the accusation and brought the case last September to the U.N. working group on arbitrary detention. . In a statement, the family welcomed the opinion issued by the panel’s five independent experts, posted on the U.N. website.

Al-Qaradawi and Khalaf, U.S. residents in their late 50s, were taken into custody by state security forces without an arrest warrant at their vacation home in June 2017 and have been held largely incommunicado since, the U.N. panel said.

Ola al-Qaradawi, a Qatari citizen, is the daughter of influential Qatar-based Muslim Brotherhood cleric Yousef al-Qaradawi, whose assets have been frozen in Egypt.

“The alleged legal basis for Ms. al-Qaradawi and Mr. Khalaf’s arrest and detention further suffers from other serious defects,” it said, noting they were not brought promptly before a judge and were denied access to family and lawyers.

The couple has not received a fair trial within a reasonable time and there was “no sign that their criminal trial will take place soon”, the U.N. experts said. Their “ordeals in prison amounted to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment”.

The government said that the case was based on an investigation by the security services relating to an alleged plot by senior leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood to create an armed wing aimed at overthrowing the government.

The U.N. experts called on the government to “remedy the situation” including by releasing and compensating the couple.

Jared Genser, the family’s U.S.-based lawyer, said in a statement: “...(the) decision vindicates what we have maintained all along, that Ola and Hosam are innocent victims wrongly targeted and arbitrarily detained by the Government of Egypt.

“They must be released immediately and unconditionally.”

Egypt’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Egyptian authorities have detained thousands of political opponents to President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi since he led the 2013 overthrow of Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected president since the military toppled the monarchy in 1952. Sissi supporters say arrests have been necessary to help stabilize the country, whose stability and economy were rocked by a 2011 popular uprising.

Critics say it is the worst political crackdown in Egypt’s modern history.

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