Human Rights Watch: Egypt continues systematic repression

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Human Rights Watch issued its World Report 2021, in which it said that Egypt’s superficial attempts to create the impression of progress in human rights did not hide the government’s brutal repression of all kinds of dissent in 2021.

The report noted that despite the end of the state of emergency in October 2021, the Emergency State Security Courts continued to prosecute human rights and peaceful political activists. In January 2021, the executive regulations of the Law of Associations formalised extensive and arbitrary restrictions on independent civil society organisations, forcing them to register or risk dissolution. In addition, the authorities used discriminatory immorality laws to arrest and detain women who are influential on social media on charges of “violating family values.”

The organisation’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, Joe Stork, confirmed that the government of President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi continued in 2021 on the usual path of relentless repression. The report stated that Egyptian security forces acted with impunity, routinely committing arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, and torture against political activists, suspects, and ordinary citizens. In September 2021, Human Rights Watch documented more than a dozen extrajudicial killings of alleged “terrorists” by national security forces, despite evidence that the dead posed no danger, and in many cases were in custody.

The organisation also said that the authorities expanded the repression to include human rights defenders outside the country by arresting members of their families in Egypt, such as the family of US-based human rights defender Mohamed Soltan. The human rights organisation explained that the army imposed severe restrictions on freedom of movement in North Sinai, bulldozed most of the agricultural land, and demolished hundreds of homes in the absence of absolute military necessity. These measures may constitute war crimes, it added. The authorities also arrested businessman Safwan Thabet, in December 2020, and his son, Seif, two months later, and held them in pretrial detention in conditions amounting to torture after they refused requests from security officials to give up their company’s assets to the state. Sisi also presented the National Human Rights Strategy, which was strongly criticised by human rights organisations for not addressing the complex human rights crisis in the country.

The report referred to the joint statement of the 46th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, issued in March 2021, in which 32 countries said they were deeply concerned about the course of human rights in Egypt. The countries highlighted restrictions on freedom of expression and the right to peaceful assembly, restrictions on civil society and political opposition, and the use of the terrorism law against peaceful opponents.