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01/06/2020 Egypt (International Christian Concern) – Last week, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released a statement calling for the release of Ramy Kamel, currently being held by the Egyptian government. Kamel, an advocate for the rights of Egyptian Coptic Christians, is reportedly in a declining state of health and many fear that his life could be threatened by the spread of COVID-19 in the Egyptian prison system.

Egyptian security forces arrested Kamel on November 23, 2019, just one day prior to his scheduled trip to Geneva to testify on human rights in Egypt at the United Nations Forum on Minority Issues. Upon the arrest, the State Security Prosecutor General of Egypt accused Kamel of “disturbing the public peace through the misuse of social media and spreading false news, and with joining and financing a terrorist group.” Since then, Kamel has been held in pre-trial detention, with prosecutors failing to set a trial date or release any more details surrounding the charges brought against him.

Egyptian National Security officials have also claimed that Kamel had received money from international transactions, but have failed to produce evidence of these transactions and ignored evidence to the contrary submitted by Kamel’s attorneys.

Kamel is a founder of the Maspero Youth Union and has been an outspoken advocate for Coptics under Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s government. Coptic Christians have continually faced discrimination throughout the country. ICC has also reported on various incidents of religiously motivated violence against Coptics, such as kidnappings and arson.

Kamel has reportedly been tortured in prison and was held in solitary confinement for a year. A family member was able to briefly see him during a supervised visit and noted that he was in a very poor state of health, suffering from repeated asthma attacks and severe weight loss. Kamel has not had access to proper health care while in captivity.

USCIRF Commissioner Nadine Maenza called on Egypt to take this opportunity to improve its human rights record through the release of Kamel. “[Mr. Kamel’s] lifelong commitment to highlighting the Coptic Christian community’s struggle to attain full religious freedom and other rights as equal citizens of Egypt makes this situation even more troubling,” Commissioner Maenza says in the statement. “The government should take this opportunity to show support for the Coptic community, including those who advocate on its behalf, by releasing Mr. Kamel.”

USCIRF Commissioner Frederick Davie also added his comments on the state of religious freedom in Egypt. “Egypt has demonstrated repeatedly that even as it makes some incremental progress toward improved religious freedom conditions, it has no tolerance for individual citizens who call for the very same reforms. The government must recognize it is the detention of human rights and religious freedom advocates like Ramy Kamel which deeply damages the country’s international image—not the sincere efforts of these advocates to make Egypt a more inclusive and just society.”

In its 2020 Annual Report published earlier last year, USCIRF recommended that Egypt be placed on the State Department’s Special Watch List. Though the country has shown some promising signs of improvement of its religious freedom conditions, Kamel’s continued detainment will definitely hurt Egypt’s ability to avoid such a recommendation in USC