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Uncertainty over Sheikh Bassiouni

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A South African-based scholar of Egyptian descent has entered his 16th week in detention at a notorious Cairo prison, following his arrest by Egyptian national security at the Cairo International Airport. Sheikh Abdul Salam Jad Bassiouni, 65, has been held at the Torah prison without charge since December 2014, with little information being revealed as to the nature of his detention.

The scholar traveled to Egypt as part of a family visit, in full possession of South African passport and valid visa. His arrest has left many baffled, with some reports indicating that Egyptian authorities suspect Bassiouni of being a supporter of the deposed and banned Muslim Brotherhood.

Iqbal Jassat, the executive chairman of Johannesburg based think-tank Media Review Network (MRN), said they were made aware of the situation just subsequent to his arrest. The initial narrative said they received was that the detention was simply part of a security check, and that he would soon be released. This has yet to occur.

“He’s had to appear before some kind of security procedure apparently every fortnight, and that just gets remanded or postponed. In other words, without any charge being referred, and without being told exactly why he is being held,” he stated.

According to Jassat, family members remain concerned as to the state of the respected scholar’s health, especially since he suffers from diabetes. There have also been suggestions that he may have slipped and injured himself whilst in detention.

Although Bassiouni holds a valid South African passport, the Department of International Relations has reportedly been tight lipped on the situation.

“We think it is important for at least the SA government to explain whether any intervention has been made on their part. If so, what has been the result of that intervention? If none has been made, perhaps it is time that they move as urgently as possible in order to get the sheikh release,” he said.

The matter is currently being addressed on a local front by a group of attorneys based in Johannesburg. Jassat said that although little fruition had come from attempts to engage with local government on the issue, it was their understanding that no successful intervention has yet been made.

“Nothing official has been offered or explained, and that therefore compounds the situation. Is there a narrative that they are sitting with which is perhaps the reason they are so silent and inactive? Or is it that there has just been a reluctance to intervene in a matter that requires, certainly on the side of the SA government, a very firm hand,” he said.

He added that the feedback received from the attorneys and family seemed to suggestion that Bassiouni’s interrogation seemed to centre around whether he held any affiliations to the Muslim Brotherhood.

The issue has earned some comparisons to the ongoing case of three Al Jazeera staff members, also suspect by Egyptian officials of assisting the now banned political group. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)

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