CAIRO Egyptian police raided and shut down on Thursday a prominent local organisation that documents alleged human rights abuses and treats torture victims, the group's lawyer told Reuters.
Taher Abu al-Nasr, who represents the Nadeem Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture, said police and officials from the Cairo municipal authority carrying out an order from last year sealed three flats belonging to the centre.
"The centre was sealed with wax today as per the order issued in February 2016 which we have challenged in court," he said, adding that he filed a second complaint on Thursday because the initial closure order had only included one flat.
The government had ordered the closure of the centre last year without providing an official reason. Health ministry sources at the time said it committed unspecified violations.
The centre was blocked from accessing its bank account in November and was told it needs to register as a non-governmental organisation (NGO).
Nadeem says it is registered as a clinic with the health ministry and does not need to register as an NGO. Abu al-Nasr said authorities closed the centre without waiting for the outcome of its judicial appeal. The ministry and Cairo municipality could not be reached for comment.
Egyptian authorities deny allegations by human rights groups and activists that security forces round up people and torture them in secret detention centres.
"They used the fact that Thursday and Friday are the official days off at the centre to go close the clinic and two other flats," said Magda Adly, one of the centre's founders.
The flat that is subject to the closure order houses the clinic for torture victims, she said. The other two house the part of the centre that documents abuses and a project that rehabilitates female victims of violence.
"Today’s shutdown of the Nadeem Center, an organisation which offers crucial support to survivors of torture and violence, is yet another shocking attack on civil society in Egypt," deputy director for campaigns at Amnesty International's Tunis regional office Najia Bounaim said.
"The move exposes the chilling extremes to which authorities are prepared to go to in their relentless and unprecedented persecution of human rights activists in recent years."
Egyptian human rights activists say they are being subjected to the worst government crackdown ever, targeting organisations accused of fomenting unrest during the 2011 uprising that ended Hosni Mubarak's 30-year rule.
Several NGOs, most involved in rights work, are embroiled in a long-running investigation, accused of receiving foreign funds to sow chaos.
"They are targeting the entire human rights movement; silencing any voices that reveal state abuses and choking outlets that talk about them," said Adly.
"Not a month goes by without us hearing news that an activist has been banned from travel or denied access to their funds," she said.
In October, an Egyptian court approved a freeze on the assets of five prominent human rights activists and three NGOs accused of receiving foreign funds to sow chaos. Three more had their assets frozen in January this year.
Rights groups say that between June 2014 and September 2016, 217 people were banned from travel, more than half of them government critics - a move which the U.N. Special Rapporteur on human rights described as a part of a broader crackdown on Egyptian civil society.
In November, parliament passed a law to regulate NGOs, which human rights groups say effectively bans their work and makes it harder for development groups and charities to operate.
The bill bans domestic and foreign groups from engaging in political activities or anything that harms national security, public order, public morals or public health - a means, critics say, to stifle dissent.
(Editing by Dominic Evans)