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Britain criticises ‘deteriorating’ human rights in Egypt

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The British government’s foreign and commonwealth office (FCO) has criticised the “poor” and “deteriorating” human rights situation in Egypt. The FCO’s human rights report noted that Egypt faces a significant terrorist threat, resulting in at least 366 deaths, but still pointed out that the human rights situation remained “poor” and “continued to deteriorate” last year.

“Although 2015 saw pardons for a small number of prisoners,” the report said, “Egypt continued to detain activists, journalists and protesters.” It referred to the fact that 230 activists were sentenced to life imprisonment in a mass trial last February concerning protests held in 2011. “In May [2015], former President Mohamed Morsi was sentenced to death in a mass trial with more than 100 others.”

The FCO mentioned an increase in the reports of torture, police brutality and forced disappearance last year. It cited statistics from an Egyptian NGO which has documented 676 cases of torture and 137 deaths in detention. The British government asked its counterpart in Cairo about 191 alleged forced disappearances; the interior ministry replied to say that 99 of those involved are in detention and 15 have been released.

“Restrictions on civil society further limited the ability of NGOs to register, work and obtain funding,” added the FCO, “and a number of prominent human rights defenders were banned from travelling.” Restrictions on freedom of expression have also increased. “A new counter-terrorism law banned publication of information about terrorism that contradicts official statements,” the report said. “The number of journalists jailed for their work rose to 23, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.”

The British report gave specific details about Shaimaa Al-Sabbagh, a female protester who was killed by the Egyptian police during a peaceful demonstration in January.

According to the FCO, the British government exerted efforts to support the implementation of the rights set out in Egypt’s new constitution through different means. These included meeting with President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi and funding several projects.

Despite the deterioration, the FCO expects major improvements in human rights in 2016. “The UK will support Egyptian government and civil society initiatives to improve the human rights situation,” it insisted. The FCO focus will be on the “detention of political activists, police abuses and restrictions on civil society.”

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