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US citizen, filmmaker held by Egypt police in undisclosed location amid journalist crackdown

CAIRO - An American translator and an Egyptian filmmaker were detained in Cairo and have been held for three days in an undisclosed location, their lawyer said Saturday.

Ahmed Hassan, a lawyer with the Hisham Mubarak Law Center, told The Associated Press that U.S. citizen Jeremy Hodge, 26, of Los Angeles, and Egyptian filmmaker Hossam Eddin el-Meneai, 36, were arrested Wednesday night at their apartment in the Dokki neighbourhood of Cairo. Hassan said that officers at the local police station first acknowledged they were holding the two but later denied that they were in custody. It is not immediately clear why the two were detained.

The Interior Ministry declined to comment.

Hassan said he believes the two are being held by Egypt's National Security Agency, the country's domestic spy service. He said he has filed a report with authorities saying the two have been "kidnapped."

Hassan called the detentions part of a "wave of intimidation of journalists" in Egypt. There has been a rise in cases where citizens detain journalists and foreigners amid a growing nationalist fervour and panic over foreign plots to destabilize the country.

The U.S. Embassy in Cairo confirmed that a U.S. citizen was detained and that officials are "providing all appropriate consular assistance," declining to comment further.

Hodge is a freelance translator working in Egypt. His roommate el-Meneai is a filmmaker, originally from the restive Northern Sinai province where militants attack security and military forces.

A statement issued by friends of the two included text messages that Hodge sent after they were detained.

"They're asking Hossam about Sinai and his camera," Hodge wrote. "They're asking me how I know him, and where I learned my Arabic." In another text message, he wrote: "Hossam is being investigated, I'm waiting around."

Hodge suffers from asthma, his friends said. It is not clear if he has access to his medication.

In a separate incident, Egyptian artist and filmmaker Aalam Wassef was briefly detained along with a Swiss citizen on Friday, and was later released without charge, lawyers said. It was not immediately clear why the two were taken from Wassef's apartment that overlooks Tahrir Square, where rallies took place Saturday on the third anniversary of Egypt's 2011 uprising.

Wassef has made videos critical of the government and former autocrat Hosni Mubarak. He worked under a pseudonym when Mubarak was in power and began putting out videos under his own name after the autocrat's fall.

Three journalists working for satellite news broadcaster Al-Jazeera English also have been held since Dec. 29, with one of them spending long hours in solitary confinement. Authorities initially accused them of being part of a terrorist group, referring to the Muslim Brotherhood, and spreading false news about Egypt. They have yet to be formally charged.

Since July 2013, at least five journalists have been killed, 45 journalists assaulted, and 11 news outlets raided in Egypt, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. The group also reported that at least 44 journalists have also been detained "without charge in pretrial procedures, which, at times, have gone on for months."

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