April 4, 2009 / 2:05 PM / 10 years ago

Egypt police beat, detain 18 protesters

KAFR EL-SHEIKH, Egypt (Reuters) - Egyptian police beat and detained at least 18 members of an anti-government protest group on Saturday during a demonstration to demand the release of two activists, eyewitnesses said.

A security source said 25 people had been detained, including journalists covering the event and lawyers involved in the court case.

Witnesses said the protesters chanted slogans against President Hosni Mubarak and the Egyptian security forces. The witnesses and security source declined to be named.

The interior ministry could not immediately comment.

The demonstrators were demanding the release of Sarah Rezk and Amina Taha, two 19-year-olds detained on Thursday for allegedly distributing leaflets calling for a national day of protest on April 6.

Rezk, Taha and those held on Saturday are activists from the Sixth of April Youth, formed after clashes on April 6 last year in the Nile Delta town of Mahalla el-Kubra between police and workers demanding more pay to compensate for soaring inflation.

Three people were killed and more than 150 injured over two days of unrest in Mahalla, the culmination of more than a year of strikes by workers at a giant state-run textile factory.

Sixth of April Youth has since transformed itself into a broader anti-government movement, collecting members through the social networking site Facebook, which along with blogs has emerged as a major forum for government critics in Egypt.

The government recently stepped up a crackdown on the group because of its calls for a national day of protest on April 6, the first anniversary of the clashes.

Court sources said a judge renewed the detention of Rezk and Taha for 15 days on Saturday.

The Cairo-based Arabic Network for Human Rights Information issued a statement condemning the renewal of their detention. It said they had been assaulted while in custody and were both handcuffed to men in the holding cells.

“Sarah and Amina were arrested and detained as part of the political series of violent actions committed by the ministry against the Sixth of April movement, after calling for a peaceful general strike,” it said in a statement.

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