Founder: Police close Egyptian center for torture victims

Cairo -  An Egyptian organization that treats victims of torture and trauma was closed down by police on Thursday morning, according to the center's founder, a prominent psychiatrist.

Aida Seif el-Dawla told The Associated Press that when the staff arrived at Al-Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence it had been sealed off by police and the building's doorman was taken into police custody for questioning, but later released.

The closure of the center, which offers therapy for torture victims and documents cases of police violations, comes as Seif el-Dawla has been fighting a court order to have the center shuttered.

The order issued in March 2016 was never made public but is reportedly based on vague government claims of breaches of Health Ministry regulations.

The center is also one of a number of non-government organisations under investigation on criminal charges of illegally receiving foreign funds.

Dozens of organisations could face prosecution in the foreign funding case.

Prominent investigative journalist Hossam Bahgat, rights advocate Gamal Eid and others have been barred from travel, and a court has also frozen their assets.

Rights groups have accused Egyptian police of regularly torturing detainees and of detaining suspected activists or Islamists without ever reporting their arrests.

The government has denied that torture is systemic, saying there have only been isolated cases.

In 2016, Seif el-Dawla's center recorded 600 cases of police torture and almost 500 people killed by security forces, 100 of them while incarcerated.

The move against the center is part of an effort to target a number of well-known rights groups and non-government organisations that has raised sharp criticism of Egypt from the United States and Europe.

The government recently passed a law that places heavy restrictions on the operations of NGOs.

President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi has overseen a broad crackdown on dissent since 2013, when he led a military overthrow of his Islamist predecessor Mohamed Morsi.

Security forces have jailed thousands of Islamists and killed hundreds as they crushed protests.

More recently, the campaign has also increasingly targeted secular activists who criticise the former general's rule.

Meanwhile, police raided a downtown coffee shop Wednesday and arrested six men.

Four of the men are political activists who have recently served time in prison in separate cases: Zizo Abdu, Omar Hazek, Nour Khalil and Mahmoud Mohamed were released later on Wednesday, along with a fifth detainee, Ahmed Shahin.

The whereabouts of a sixth man who was arrested from the coffee shop, Amr Mahmoud, were unknown.

Khalil said on his Facebook page following his release that the six were interrogated while blindfolded by National Security officials in an unofficial building.

He said Mohamed was separated from the group in the middle of the interrogation.

A statement from the Interior Ministry was not immediately available.

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