Egyptian police have raided the offices of an NGO affiliated with a leftist former presidential candidate, arresting three employees and confiscating computers, the group’s director says.
The Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights, founded by former candidate Khaled Ali, has supported striking factory workers and defended activists at trials.
Authorities have renewed scrutiny of some NGOs since the military toppled Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July, following several days of mass protests.
Several rights groups have reported visits by police over the past few months, but Wednesday night’s raid was the first on a non-Islamist NGO since Morsi’s ouster.
“Officers stormed the office around 11.30 (Wednesday night, 0830 AEDT) and arrested everyone who was there,” said the group’s director Nadim Mansour. Police also arrested two volunteers who were present.
Deputy director Heba Khalil said the office room targeted in the raid was used as a media and documentation centre, and the group said one of those arrested, Mostafa Eissa, headed its documentation unit.
The arrested employees and volunteers have been taken the to an unknown location, Mansour said.
Police had ransacked the office and taken three computer hard drives, according to an AFP correspondent who saw the office Thursday morning.
Interior ministry officials were not immediately available for comment.
Police had raided several foreign NGOs in 2011 after prosecutors accused them of receiving illicit funding from abroad.
A court later sentenced 43 NGO employees, including US citizens who had left the country, to terms ranging from one to five years in prison.
“It’s a signal to rights groups that you’re not free to do your work in Egypt,” said Khalil, referring to the raid on Wednesday night.
“I think the security apparatus, which was always there, is now back with more confidence since June 30,” when the mass protests against Morsi began, she said.
Police have launched a blistering crackdown on Morsi’s Islamist supporters since his ouster, with more than 1000 people killed in street clashes and thousands arrested.
They have also begun to target secular activists who opposed Morsi and now criticise the military-installed government.
State media have repeatedly claimed that some rights groups form part of a “fifth column” that should be investigated.
Meanwhile deposed president Morsi will be tried on charges of “espionage” that aided acts of “terrorism”, state media reports say.
Morsi, an Islamist who the military toppled in July after a single year of turbulent rule, is already on trial over alleged involvement in the killings of opposition protesters.
Thirty-five other defendants, including former presidential aides and top leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood movement, would stand trial with him, the official MENA news agency reported.
Prosecutors accuse Morsi of “espionage for foreign organisations abroad to commit terrorist attacks in the country,” the agency reported.