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Egypt criticised for amnesty given to Daesh militants, while political prisoners languish in jail

March 14, 2024 at 4:21 pm

A screengrab from a video shows detainees hung from a metal grate by their arms in a police station in Egypt [AlyHussinMahdy/Twitter]

The Egyptian government has been criticised by rights groups for guaranteeing “questionable” and lenient amnesty deals for Daesh militants, in stark contrast to the persecution of political prisoners and peaceful dissidents in the country.

In a report by the Sinai Foundation for Human Rights (SFHR) and Human Rights Watch (HRW), the groups raised concerns over Egypt’s decision to grant amnesty to members of Wilayat Sina (Sinai Province) – an affiliate of Daesh in the region – in exchange for laying down their arms and surrendering to the army.

The report drew from evidence gathered by SFHR, including public statements by officials in President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s government, highlighting war crimes and human rights violations committed by the Sinai Province group and the Egyptian army throughout their almost decade-long conflict between 2013 and 2022.

Crimes committed by the Daesh affiliates include “kidnapping and torturing scores of residents and security force members, and extrajudicially executing some.” At least 650 civilians were reportedly killed by the militants, with the group having claimed responsibility for an attack on a local mosque in 2017 that killed over 300 worshippers.

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While the report acknowledged that the laws of armed conflict allow broad amnesties to be granted at the end of hostilities, it clarified that that principle does not include individuals who are suspected of, or charged with, committing serious violations of international humanitarian law. “The authorities should make public the criteria used to grant amnesty and measures taken to ensure that those responsible for serious abuses face justice,” insisted the rights groups.

“Amnesties for members of armed groups who lay down their arms should never include those who intentionally carried out grave crimes such as targeting or deliberately killing civilians,” said Ahmed Salem, executive director of SFHR. “Egyptian authorities should develop a national strategy for Wilayat Sina’ prosecutions, ensuring that those with direct responsibility for serious crimes do not enjoy impunity.”

Adam Coogle, HRW’s deputy Middle East and North Africa director, called on the Egyptian government to “establish detailed, transparent and human rights-based criteria for any amnesties it grants to former Wilayat Sina’ members.” He added that the regime “should offer rehabilitation and reintegration services to aid those who turn themselves in, while investigating and prosecuting suspected war criminals in proceedings that meet international due process standards.”

Many have criticised the stark contrast between the Egyptian government’s lenient amnesty to the Daesh militants and the practice over the past decade of regularly detaining and torturing tens of thousands of peaceful dissidents and regime critics. There are reportedly at least 65,000 political prisoners who continue to languish in Egypt’s vast prison network, as well as widespread human rights abuses, although this is denied by Al-Sisi.

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