Egypt slaps travel ban on Australian, American

Egypt's public prosecutor said on Tuesday that an Australian journalist and a US student were barred from leaving the country, a day after they were released from detention on suspicion of bribing activists.

Freelance reporter Austin Mackell and American student Derek Ludovici were arrested on Saturday along with their Egyptian translator Aliya Alwi in the Nile Delta city of Mahalla, accused of paying Egyptians to stage protests against the authorities.

"The Egyptian prosecution is still investigating a case in which a US citizen and an Australian are accused of bribing workers of Mahalla to stage strikes as part of the civil disobedience," the prosecutor's office said in a statement carried by the official MENA news agency.

"The prosecution has banned the suspects from traveling until the investigation is completed," it said.

The travel ban comes after Mackell denied the accusations against him and told how he could hear prisoners being tortured.

"This is the standard line: that the people who are protesting, that the people who are fighting for their rights in any regard, are actually being paid by foreign agents," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

"From the way I was treated as opposed to the people I could hear being tortured in the room next to me, one thing was clear: that as a foreigner my rights and the safety of my person is still more valued by the authorities than that of an Egyptian citizen."

The three had been detained on the same day activists held strikes to mark the first anniversary of president Hosni Mubarak's overthrow.

On Saturday, 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.

During her detention, Alwi said on her Twitter account that "witnesses have been produced to confirm it."

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.

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