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HRW raises ‘alarm bells’ over Egyptian regime’s retaliation against activists 

November 18, 2022 at 11:06 am

A view of ‘Green Zone’ biosphere tent built within the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) in Egypt’s Red Sea resort of Sharm El Sheikh on November 09, 2022 [Mohamed Abdel Hamid/Anadolu Agency]

Egyptian authorities have detained hundreds of people in a nationwide crackdown following calls for anti-government protests, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Wednesday. Those arrested include journalists, a prominent lawyer, and a member of an opposing political party. The rights group has expressed fears over retaliatory actions by the Egyptian authorities once the COP27 climate conference ends today. Likely targets include Egyptian activists and dissidents who criticised the government’s environmental and human rights record.

“From surveillance to intimidation to outright arrests, the behaviour of Egyptian authorities while the spotlight is on the country raises alarm bells about what may happen after COP27 is over,” said Lama Fakih, Middle East and North Africa director at HRW. “Egypt’s international partners should press Egyptian authorities both publicly and privately to respect the right of its citizens to speak critically about human rights and end the country’s human rights crisis.”

Documents shared by the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF) with HRW revealed that nearly 700 people across 18 governorates were held in detention between 1 October and 14 November. According to ECRF, the regime in Cairo targeted Egyptians merely for responding to calls circulating on social media for anti-government protests to be held on 11 November, which came amid an economic crisis triggered by a dramatic currency devaluation. Based on the ECRF data, authorities have ordered most of these detainees to be held for 15 days pending investigation on terrorism-related charges.

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It’s reported that 40 of those detained have not been brought before prosecution officials, and their whereabouts remain unknown days after their arrests. Under international law, a government violates the prohibition against enforced disappearance when its agents take a person into custody and then either deny the government is detaining the person or fail to disclose the person’s whereabouts. “Disappeared” people are at high risk of torture.

Delegates raised concern over the Egyptian regime’s crackdown during the COP27 event in Sharm El-Sheikh which began on 6 November. “Egyptian activists have boldly spoken about the escalating human rights abuses in the country at COP27,” Fakih said. “The authorities need to constructively engage with civil society rather than retaliate against them for exercising their basic rights.”

Days before the launch of COP27 international law firm Guernica 37 slammed the hosting of the conference as Greenwashing Egypt’s dictatorship and human rights abuses. “Egypt is ruled by a military regime with an abysmal human rights record. The point of declaring an environmental emergency is to save humanity but humanity includes the people of Egypt where the current regime is using the diplomacy of hosting this year’s COP27 to whitewash its appalling human rights record,” Guernica 37 Chambers said in a press release.