Last updated: 13 February, 2012

Egypt frees Australian reporter and US student

An Australian journalist, a US student and their Egyptian translator were freed on Monday after two days in detention 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 Saturday the same day activists held student strikes to mark the first anniversary of president Hosni Mubarak’s overthrow.

“They have just been released and are on their way from Mahalla to Cairo,” the official told AFP.

Veteran Egyptian labour activist Kamal al-Fayyumi and a driver who was with them were also released, the official said.

General Mostafa Baz, police chief of the northern Gharbiya province, had told reporters the Australian, the American and their translator were suspected of having coordinated over the Internet to meet in Mahalla, which has a history of labour 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.

Alwi said on her Twitter account that they were being charged with inciting protests and vandalism.

“Witnesses have been produced to confirm it,” she wrote. “Report against us, filed now. Many witnesses saw us ‘offering money to youth to vandalise and cause chaos.'”

She later tweeted that they were being handed over to intelligence services.

“(Mackell) has confirmed he is being treated appropriately by local police authorities. He confirmed his intention to engage a legal representative,” an Australian foreign office spokeswoman said Saturday.

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 US-Israeli citizen they accused of spying and inciting Egyptians to protest. The man was released in October in a prisoners exchange deal.