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UN rights body calls on Egypt to end prosecution of activists

An Egyptian police officer enters the Tora prison in the Egyptian capital Cairo on 11 February 2020 [KHALED DESOUKI/AFP via Getty Images]
An Egyptian police officer enters the Tora prison in the Egyptian capital Cairo on 11 February 2020 [KHALED DESOUKI/AFP via Getty Images]

Western countries today called on Egypt to end the prosecution of activists, journalists and perceived political opponents under counter-terrorism laws and to unconditionally release them, Reuters reported.

The United States, which has observer status at the UN Human Rights Council, was among 31 signatories of the joint statement on Egypt, the first since 2014, which called on the government to lift curbs on freedoms of expression and assembly.

Egypt is a close ally of the United States, but the Biden administration has vowed to speak out about human rights violations and abuses of the rule of law worldwide.

President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, who ousted the Muslim Brotherhood from power in a 2013 military coup, has overseen an extensive crackdown on political dissent that has steadily tightened in recent years. Al-Sisi has said there are no political prisoners in Egypt and that stability and security are paramount.

"We urge Egypt to guarantee space for civil society – including human rights defenders – to work without fear of intimidation, harassment, arrest, detention or any other form of reprisal," Finland's Ambassador Kirsti Kauppi said, reading out the statement to the Geneva forum.

Sisi's Prisons - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Egypt Sisi's Prisons – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

"That includes lifting travel bans and asset freezes against human rights defenders – including EIPR staff," she said, referring to three activists from the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights arrested last November after briefing senior diplomats in Cairo.

Egypt's foreign ministry had said EIPR was operating illegally, an accusation the group denies.

The trio have been provisionally released, but the arrests galvanised support for the move in the council, activists and diplomats said.

"It's been seven years since there has been any kind of collective action on Egypt at the Human Rights Council, all the while the situation has declined sharply – this is a crucial step," Kevin Whelan, Amnesty International representative to the UN in Geneva, told Reuters. "We're at the point where the survival of the human rights movement in Egypt is at stake."

Most of the signatory countries are European, joined by Australia, Canada and New Zealand. No countries from the African or Middle East region backed the statement.

READ: No matter what else he claims, Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi is a tyrant

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AfricaEgyptInternational OrganisationsNewsUN
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