Human Rights Watch (HRW) has condemned the Egyptian authorities for a series of "arbitrary" arrests that have been carried out against a number of political opponents to President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi ahead of next month's presidential election, which the rights organisation considers "unfair."
"Egyptian authorities carried out a series of arbitrary arrests in late January and February 2018, in an escalating crackdown against political opposition," HRW said in a statement yesterday.
The rights organisation called on the Egyptian authorities to release the 2012 presidential candidate and the head of the Strong Egypt Party, Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, who was detained earlier this month along with several party leaders over alleged links to the now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group. Since the arrest, they have been placed on a "terrorism list" and banned from travel and had their assets frozen.
"The intensifying repression and the use of terrorism-related charges against peaceful activists are emblematic of a government strategy to silence critical voices ahead of the planned presidential elections on March 26-28," HRW said.
"Aboul Fotouh's arrest underlines the government message that criticising President Al-Sisi in the lead-up to the presidential elections is forbidden," HRW's Director for Middle East and North Africa, Sarah Leah Whitson, said.
She stressed that the "elections should stimulate political debate and reflect the popular will, but Al-Sisi's government wants to ensure with its heavy-handed repression that this is not the case in Egypt."
Aboul Fotouh was the latest in a string of prominent opposition figures arrested since January, including his deputy, Mohamed El-Kassas, who was also detained over alleged links to the Brotherhood group. Aboul Fotouh's detention was renewed for 15 days yesterday.
Authorities have also arrested Mohamed Abdel-Latif Talaat, secretary-general of the centrist Al-Wasat Party, and Hisham Geneina, the former anti-corruption chief to the military prosecutor's office who had been an aide to former military chief of staff Sami Annan, who was arrested last month just days after he declared his intention to run for president. Both remain in detention.
Politicians say that the Egyptian authorities have manipulated the upcoming elections to guarantee a win for Al-Sisi, who now faces only an obscure politician who supports him as an adversary.