Dozens of countries are urging Egypt to end prosecution of militants and stop using anti-terrorism laws to muzzle criticism.
The United States has joined Western countries in urging Egypt to end prosecution of activists, journalists and political opponents suspected under “anti-terrorism” laws in a rare criticism of the Middle Eastern country in l United Nations human rights agency.
The United States, which has observer status with the United Nations Human Rights Council, was among 31 signatories to the joint declaration on Egypt, the first since 2014, which called on the government to lift restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly.
Friday’s statement specifically demanded that Egypt end the use of “terrorism” charges to keep human rights defenders and civil society activists in prolonged pre-trial detention.
Washington has avoided criticizing Egypt, a close ally, but US President Joe Biden has pledged to denounce human rights violations and rule of law violations around the world. Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, called Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi “my favorite dictator”.
El-Sisi, who overthrew the country’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi in a 2013 coup, oversaw a broad crackdown on political dissent that has tightened steadily in recent years.
According to rights groups, around 60,000 political prisoners are held in Egyptian jails and the country is considered the third worst jailer of journalists in the world, behind China and Turkey.
El-Sisi said there were no political prisoners in Egypt and that stability and security were paramount.
“We urge Egypt to guarantee civil society – including human rights defenders – a space to work without fear of intimidation, harassment, arrest, detention or any other form of retaliation,” he said. Finnish Ambassador Kirsti Kauppi said, reading the statement at the Geneva forum. .
“This includes the lifting of travel bans and asset freezes against human rights defenders – including EIPR staff,” she said, referring to three activists from the Egyptian Initiative for Human Rights. personal rights arrested last November after briefing high-level diplomats in Cairo.
Egypt’s foreign ministry accused the EIPR of operating illegally, a charge the group denies.
The trio had been provisionally released, but the arrests galvanized support for the move in the council, activists and diplomats said.
“It has been seven years since there was no collective action against Egypt at the Human Rights Council, when the situation has deteriorated sharply – this is a crucial step”, Kevin Whelan , Amnesty International’s representative to the United Nations in Geneva, told Reuters.
“We are 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 country in the African or Middle Eastern region supported this statement.