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Fri 26 Dec 2008 04:45 PM

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Egypt denies Saudi spy detention reports

UPDATE 1: Cairo says software engineer facing security charges, not accused of spying.

Egypt's foreign ministry on Friday denied claims by a human rights group that an Egyptian man was being detained in Saudi Arabia on suspicion of spying but was instead facing unspecified "security charges".

The Egypt-based Arabic Network for Human Rights had said that software engineer Yusef Ashmawi, who has been held in Saudi Arabia for four months, was accused of spying for Egypt.

"During the only visit he was allowed, he told his brother-in-law that he was being accused of spying on Saudi intelligence and relaying the information to Egypt," the network's chief Gamal Eid said.

But Egyptian consular affairs official Ahmed Rizq told AFP that Ashmawi, who was contracted to work for the Saudi defence ministry and intelligence services, was "categorically not accused of being a spy."

"The charge is not spying. Many Egyptians work in sensitive workplaces in Saudi Arabia," he said, adding that the charges were "security related" without giving further information.

Rizq had said in a statement on Thursday that the foreign ministry was following the case.

"Saudi authorities have said that they have been detaining Ashmawi for several months in a security case, but they have not yet told us the nature of the case," he said.

Asked about the foreign ministry's comments, Eid said: "The foreign ministry has no idea about what's going on, so it can't deny it.

"It is trying to improve its image because of its negligence over the past four months," he said.

Ashmawi's case was the latest controversial detention of an Egyptian in the ultra-conservative kingdom.

Earlier this month, Cairo lifted a ban it on its doctors taking jobs in Saudi Arabia after two Egyptian doctors were sentenced to jail and lashes of the whip for allegedly turning a Saudi princess into a drug addict.

The harsh sentence provoked demonstrations in Egypt and a media campaign in the opposition and independent press calling for their release.

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