Middle East

Struggle over Egypt's Juhayna behind arrest of founder, son - Amnesty

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A truck of Juhayna transports products of juice and milk from a factory in Cairo, Egypt, June 11, 2015. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

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CAIRO, Sept 27 (Reuters) - Egyptian authorities are holding the founder of the country's largest dairy products and juices producer and his son in conditions that amount to torture because of their refusal to cede their assets, Amnesty International said on Monday.

There was no immediate response to a request for comment to the Egypt's state information service.

The arrests of Safwan Thabet, founder and former CEO of Juhayna (JUFO.CA), in December, and of his son Seifeldin two months later, shook Juhayna, a household name in Egypt.

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The authorities accuse them of belonging to and financing a terrorist group -- commonly a reference to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood -- according to state media. The Thabet family have denied any wrongdoing in statements on social media.

Such charges have been widely deployed in a crackdown that has swept up dissidents from across the political spectrum, and were now being used to target business people, Amnesty International said in a statement.

Authorities have failed to produce evidence for the alleged affiliation, it added.

Authorities froze Safwan Thabet's assets several years ago due to alleged links with the Brotherhood. The company, which has continued to operate normally, did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment on the Amnesty report.

Prior to their arrests, Egyptian security officials demanded that Safwan Thabet hand over part of Juhayna to a government-owned entity and that Seifeldin relinquish all his family's shares, Amnesty said, citing sources familiar with the company and the Thabet family's situation.

"In addition to being denied the right to challenge the lawfulness of their detention, Safwan and Seif (Seifeldin) Thabet are being tortured by being held in prolonged and indefinite solitary confinement," said Philip Luther, the group's Middle East and North Africa Research and Advocacy Director.

Egypt's interior ministry and public prosecutors' office have not commented on the case. A lawyer for Juhayna could not be reached.

In May, Reuters obtained documents showing Juhayna had filed several complaints with authorities over the suspension and refusal of dozens of vehicle licenses that put the company at risk of losses.

Egyptian authorities have generally denied allegations of mistreatment and poor conditions in prisons.

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Editing by Jon Boyle

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