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Legal delegation to Egypt slams al-Sisi’s “police state”, urges international action

An international legal delegation to Egypt has slammed the government’s repression of its political opponents as characteristic of a “police state”, at the launch of a new report in London today.

The International Coalition for Freedoms and Rights (ICFR) presented the findings of its fourth and most recent delegation in the presence of two members of the group, solicitor Roger Sahota and retired solicitor Michael Ellman, who spoke of their findings.

According to the organisation’s Secretary-General Anas Altikriti, the ICFR is a global network of legal, human rights, and media experts, whose main concern is the events of July 2013 and Egypt’s regression in the move towards democracy. It was inaugurated a year ago, and seeks to document, archive, and report back on the progress or lack thereof towards respect for human rights in Egypt.

The press conference took place shortly after Egypt’s appearance in Geneva for its Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council. Two other speakers at the press conference, chair of the Egyptian Revolutionary Council Dr. Maha Azzam, and barrister Toby Cadman, attended the UPR and discussed the event surrounding the review.

Speaking first on the delegation’s trip to Egypt 11-15 October, Sahota criticised the authorities’ denial of access to ousted Pres. Morsi’s trial, despite repeated applications and advance communication with the relevant parties.

Based on testimony from lawyers of other defendants, and drawing on the frequently-cited Human Rights Watch report of August this year, Sahota expressed concern that the trial of Morsi, as well as others, did not meet international standards for fairness.

According to Sahota, the delegation met with a variety of persons, including detainees’ relatives, the families of the deceased, students, lawyers, trade unionists, politicians, and also some government officials.

“We heard disturbing accounts of indiscriminate arrests, torture in detention, the targeting of student and political activists – evidence of a deliberate strategy to deny political detainees the basic rudiments of due process.”

Addressing the content of Egypt’s UPR in Geneva, Toby Cadman emphasised that the point they repeatedly made to countries’ representatives was that any dissatisfaction with a democratic government is to be expressed through the ballot box, not the barrel of a gun.

Cadman described the situation in Egypt today as a “classic anatomy of a dictatorship, being taken point by point, unfolding daily.” The extent of the human rights violations, he said, was such that you can go through “treaties article by article” and see these abuses “occurring consistently” in Egypt.

Both Cadman and Azzam pointed to a host of areas of great concern, including the Egyptian authorities’ policies in the Sinai Peninsula, where, according to Cadman, “10,000 people have been uprooted and their homes destroyed”.

According to Cadman, the UPR was a “PR disaster” for the al-Sisi regime – part of the context, he suggested, for the announcement that foreign prisoners could be returned to their home countries.

The ICFR report and delegates emphasise the need for the international community to take action, and ensure accountability for human rights abuses. “It would be easy for us in the international community to turn a blind eye to what is happening in Egypt when those events are competing with stories from Iraq, Syria, Gaza, and Libya”, said Sahota.

“It may be politically convenient for the West to see Egypt as a key partner in its security and political goals in the region, but I would urge that these violations be addressed and for it to be made clear that there’s no place for these atrocities.”

Ellman echoed the report findings by describing conditions in Egypt as those of a “police state”, one that is “still heavily subsidized by the USA who don’t dare call it a coup.”

Cadman said that what is really important is not so much what happened in Geneva but what comes after – whether there will be any pressure to address the serious concerns raised. “The international community cannot deal with Egypt like it is business as usual.”

Criticism, including that from the U.S., if it is to mean something has to translate into accountability through a block on arms sales and cessation of trade agreements, he added.

Maha Azzam claimed that the international community was “waking up”, and that the “pressure is on”, in Geneva, London, Brussels, and elsewhere. “Not for ‘political’ reasons,” she added, “but because we believe the citizens of Egypt need to have their rights upheld and respected by the state, and that the violations that have happened are so extreme that they can’t be ignored.”

Azzam urged a UN investigation into the Rabaa massacre, as well as accountability for the perpetrators of atrocities through travel bans.

“Under the guise of a war on terrorism”, Azzam said, “civil liberties are being denied to Egyptian citizens.”

“Closing the political space for those that respect the democratic process whatever their ideological leanings is a very dangerous development”, Azzam expanded, in response to a question from Middle East Monitor.

“It means the choices are between authoritarianism and extremism. The promotion of democracy is the best way to combat extremism: the volatility of a dictator is not the way to promote democracy or fight terrorism.”

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