Egyptian police arrested on Saturday an Australian journalist, an American student and their Egyptian translator on suspicion of paying Egyptians to stage protests against the authorities, a security official said.
Freelance reporter Austin Mackell, American student Derek Ludovici and translator Aliya Alwi were detained in the Nile Delta city of Mahalla on the same day activists held student strikes to mark the first anniversary of president Hosni Mubarak’s overthrow.
General Mostafa Baz, police chief of the northern Gharbiya province, told reporters the three were suspected of having coordinated over the Internet to meet in Mahalla, which has a history of labor strikes, to “incite people to protest.”
A security official said people in Mahalla had complained to police that all three were paying people to protest. The authorities have in the past blamed foreigners for plotting unrest.
“Our car got rocked and beaten against the glass…got called a whore and all sorts of things. Police escorted us to station,” Alwy posted on her Twitter account before their detention.
“Charges brought against (us) of inciting protest and vandalism. Witnesses have been produced to confirm it.”
She later tweeted that they were being handed over to intelligence services.
Veteran Egyptian labor activist Kamal al-Fayyumi was also arrested, Baz said, although it was not immediately clear why he had been detained.
Australia’s foreign office confirmed Mackell’s arrest and said diplomatic officials in Cairo were “seeking advice from Egyptian police on possible charges.”
“(Mackell) has confirmed he is being treated appropriately by local police authorities. He confirmed his intention to engage a legal representative,” a foreign office spokeswoman said.
The authorities, including the ruling military which took charge after Mubarak’s ouster, have accused foreigners of stirring unrest in Egypt which has seen a spate of deadly protests over past months.
In June, security forces arrested a U.S.-Israeli citizen they accused of spying and inciting Egyptians to protest. The man was released in October in a prisoners exchange deal.