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UN chief concerned by arrest of Egyptian rights lawyer

The brother and nephew of former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, seen in November 2016, ave been indicted in a US court over an alleged attempt to bribe a Middle Eastern official regarding the sale of a building in Vietnam (AFP Photo/FADEL SENNA)

United Nations (United States) (AFP) - UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern on Wednesday over the arrest of a prominent Egyptian human rights lawyer, warning authorities in Cairo against progressively shutting down freedom of expression.

Egyptian police arrested Azza Soliman, who founded the Center for Egyptian Women's Legal Assistance, at her home and briefly detained her for questioning on allegations of taking foreign funds to "harm national interests," according to her lawyer.

"This is the latest manifestation of the progressive closing of space for the public exchange of views in Egypt," said UN spokesman Farhan Haq.

"The secretary-general underscores the important role that civil society and NGOs play in assisting governments to meet both developmental and civil objectives," he added.

The United Nations had raised concern about Cairo's decision in September to freeze the assets of several prominent rights activists and NGOs, which stoked fears of a crackdown on civil society.

Under Egyptian law, members of rights groups operating without registration or accepting foreign funding without government permission could face lengthy jail sentences.