Middle East Times
By Joseph Mayton
February 09, 2009
CAIRO -- A German-Egyptian arrested by security forces near Cairo following a non-violent march in support of Gaza has sparked an international conundrum and left protesters and rights groups frustrated over the state's maltreatment of peace activists.
Philip Rizk, a filmmaker and postgraduate student at the American University in Cairo (AUC), had joined 14 others in a 10 kilometer (six mile) march on the outskirts of Cairo on Friday, but his whereabouts are a mystery after he was arrested and transferred to an unknown location.
The activists, part of the "To Gaza" campaign, had been marching in solidarity with Palestinians and to raise awareness about the effects of Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. Rizk had spent two years working in Gaza before returning to Cairo to study one and a half years ago.
He was one of the group's organizers.
Travis Randall, an American participating in the march, told the Middle East Times that the march was simply "a show of solidarity" with Gaza and peace. The demonstrators carried Palestinian flags and signs from Shobra al-Khima to just north of the capital, Qalyubiya.
According to Randall, the march was completed without incident and the group was getting into a minivan to drive back to Cairo when police stopped them.
"We were getting into a minivan when the police came and stopped us from leaving. This was around five in the evening," Randall said.
Mohsen Bashir, a lawyer from the Hisham Mubarak Law Center arrived on the scene a few hours later in order to deal with the police, who were demanding copies of their identification papers.
"The police told us that they were going to release us, but we had to make copies of our passports and ID's first," Randall said.
So the activists agreed to comply with police action. Assuming they were going to a photocopy center, the activists piled back into the minivan and followed the police, who took them to a local police station where Rizk was singled out for questioning.
At first, the activists refused, but the lawyer said he would accompany the German national into the police station.
"Police told us they would question him for 30 minutes and then he would be released," Randall recalled. But after, at around 11:15 pm, they received word that police intended to transfer Rizk away from the station. So the activists formed a line in front of the gate where a vehicle would be required to pass through.
"We ran to the gate to physically block the way of an unmarked vehicle with Philip in the back. Police attempted to pull us out of the way and the van continued to drive and forced us to move to avoid being run down," Randall said of the situation.
One journalist and a representative from the Nadim Center – a Cairo-based human rights organization – who were covering the event, immediately tried to pursue the vehicle taking Rizk.
But police attempted to force the driver out of the vehicle, punching him through the window repeatedly, Randall said. The driver slammed on the gas and drove on to try and catch up with Rizk. However, police roadblocks set up stopped their car and the journalists were unable to follow.
The incident has brought in the German Embassy into the fray, who have said they are doing all they can to secure the release of their national, but as of Sunday evening did not know the location of Rizk.
The Nadim Center said in a statement that Rizk was taken away in an unmarked vehicle and his location remains a mystery.
The rights group "condemns this barbaric, Mafia-style treatment of citizens," the statement said.
On Saturday, the remaining 14 activists from Friday's march held a sit-in in front of the highest appellate court in central Cairo in order to give their statements. Some 40 other lawyers and activists joined them to show their solidarity. Nothing substantial had resulted from it Saturday.
On Sunday evening state security forces arrived at Rizk's family's home in an upscale Cairo neighborhood. According to Ahmed el-Droubi, a leading activist and organizer of march, said that "state security left the Rizk home, but remain on stairs of their home, leaving his parents and sisters in fear over their [security forces] intentions for Phillip."
Rizk, a popular blogger at Tabula Gaza (tabulagaza.blogspot.com) had recently completed work on a short documentary on non-violent resistance to the Israeli occupation and had been helping to get medicine into the coastal enclave after a 23-day war left more than 1,300 Palestinians dead.
Egypt's Ministry of Interior has refused to comment on the case, other than telling the Middle East Times on Sunday "we don't know anything."
Some activists have argued that it is part of plan to make Rizk a scapegoat for allegedly smuggling items into Gaza.