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CAIRO (AP) — Egyptian police arrested at least eight people on Tuesday, including a former lawmaker and key secular activists in the country's 2011 uprising, for their alleged ties to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group, authorities said.
The arrests mark the latest in a years-long crackdown by President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi's government on Islamists, critics and dissent in general.
Last week, Egypt's former President Mohammed Morsi who hailed from the Brotherhood, collapsed and died in a Cairo courtroom during one of his trials.
His death sparked criticism of el-Sissi's government with rights activists accusing it of mistreating Morsi in jail and failing to provide adequate medication, allegations denied by authorities.
Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected president, had been imprisoned since his ouster by the military in 2013, after only one year in power and amid mass protests against his divisive rule.
Tuesday's statement from the Interior Ministry, which oversees the police, said the arrest of Zyad el-Elaimy, the former lawmaker, was part of a raid that targeted at least 19 businesses and economic entities linked to the Brotherhood, which Egypt designated a terrorist group in 2013.
According to rights lawyer Gamal Eid, police arrested el-Elaimy on Tuesday morning in Cairo's Maadi district. A vocal critic of el-Sissi's government, el-Elaimy is a leading member of the secular Egyptian Social Democratic Party. He was a parliament member after the 2011 uprising that toppled autocrat President Hosni Mubarak.
Economist Omar el-Shenety and journalists Hossam Monis and Hisham Fouad were also arrested, the ministry said.
Monis was the presidential campaign manager for opposition leader Hamdeen Sabahi, the only candidate who ran against el-Sissi in the 2014 presidential election.
Abdel-Aziz el-Husseini, a senior leader in the Karama, or Dignity party, said el-Elaimy and Monis took part in meetings with political parties and opposition lawmakers to discuss possibilities to run in the 2020 parliamentary elections. Their latest meeting was late Monday in Cairo, he added.
"These public meetings are legitimate. They are members in legitimate parties and absolutely have no ties to the Brotherhood," he said.
The meetings included the Civil Democratic Movement, a coalition of liberal and left-leaning parties, which called for their release.
Amnesty International condemned the arrests, as part of "the Egyptian authorities' systematic persecution and brutal crackdown on anyone who dares to criticize them."
"The crackdown leaves no doubt about the authorities' vision for political life in Egypt; an open-air prison with no opposition, critics or independent reporting allowed," said Magdalena Mughrabi, Amnesty International's North Africa director of research.
The Interior Ministry statement said the detained were collaborating with wanted Brotherhood members in Turkey to plot violence and riots on the anniversary of the June 30 mass protests that led to the military ouster of Morsi from power.
The Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights said the detained were questioned by prosecutors later Tuesday.
Morsi, who was known to have diabetes, was often held in solitary confinement and was largely barred from receiving visitors. His family was only allowed to visit three times. While in detention, Morsi continued to appear in court on a range of charges.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a fierce el-Sissi critic, has claimed that Morsi didn't die of natural causes but was killed. He has also said he believes the United Nations should take up "Morsi's suspicious death." Egyptian authorities deny mistreatment of Morsi and have dismissed Erdogan's claims.