Hours after marching in a peaceful protest against the government late last month, Yassin Mohammed and his friends were lingering in the area in a district of Cairo when police attacked them, piled them into a minibus and took them to a police station. There, he said, he was blindfolded, handcuffed and beaten by security agents.
Now, 21-year-old Mohammed, released on bail, faces trial on charges of breaking a 2013 law that bans any street demonstrations.
Mohammed is among those caught up in one of the biggest waves of arrests in the past two years in Egypt, a sweep that signals a fierce zero-tolerance stance by the government of President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi over any sign of unrest.
The detentions were sparked by demonstrations against Al-Sisi’s decision last month to hand over two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, which galvanised activists who had been largely silenced by previous crackdowns.
But activists have been startled by the scope of the arrests and how little it takes to bring severe charges, including accusations of seeking to overthrow the government or fomenting terrorism, over demonstrations that gathered only a few hundred people.
In the past month, human rights lawyers say nearly 1,300 were detained. Most of them have been released, but 277 have been formally charged and face trial, according to Mohammed Abdel-Aziz, a rights lawyer who has been tracking the arrests and is representing 20 of the detainees.