Several European countries have censured Egypt for serious human rights abuses, with UN diplomats voicing alarm over mounting crackdown on freedom of expression in the North African state under general-turned President Abdel Fattah el-Sis.
During Egypt’s periodic UN human rights review in Geneva on Wednesday, representatives of a wide range of countries, including EU states, criticized Cairo for torture, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, mass trials, dire conditions in detention and discrimination against women.
"We remain deeply concerned by restrictions on human rights defenders, including arrests, travel bans, asset freezes, and restrictions on freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association," British Ambassador Julien Braithwaite told the meeting.
Swedish Ambassador Veronika Bard called on Cairo to "stop unduly restricting space for civil society, including through asset freezes, travel bans, long periods of pre-trial detention and growing numbers of arrests."
Sisi has long been facing international condemnation for a crackdown on civil society groups since he took power in 2014, a year after a military coup spearheaded by him toppled the country’s first ever democratically-elected President Mohamed Morsi.
Morsi passed away during a trial court session in Cairo in June.
Since Morsi’s overthrow, Egyptian authorities have been engaged in a persistent crackdown on dissent, killing hundreds and arresting thousands.
A number of diplomats also voiced concern on Wednesday over conditions in detention in Egypt, amid allegation by rights groups of torture, overcrowding and medical negligence in jails.
Egypt on Monday opened up Tora prison in Cairo for a media tour after a UN report attributed the death of Morsi to "brutal" conditions during his six years in jail.
A group of independent rights experts said the death of the ousted president could amount to a "state-sanctioned arbitrary killing".
UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Agnes Callamard told AFP she had closely followed procedures, and that it was her duty to speak up since other prisoners risked succumbing to the dire prison conditions.
Italy’s Ambassador Gian Lorenzo Cornado meanwhile raised the case of an Italian student, who disappeared in Cairo last year, urging Egypt to "strengthen efforts to prevent and combat all forms of torture and ill-treatment, ensuring that those responsible are held to account, including the perpetrators of the brutal killing of Giulio Regeni."
The review comes nearly two months after the Egyptian authorities carried out the largest wave of mass arrests since Sisi came to power.
It also comes just days ahead of a key court session on 17 November to appeal against arbitrary travel bans imposed on NGO staff, including many of the leaders of Egypt’s independent human rights organizations.
Prior to the opening of the 34th session of UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Reviews, Amnesty International called for the immediate release of peaceful protesters, activists and human rights defenders in Egypt following a draconian crackdown that saw more than 3,800 people arrested.
Amnesty urged the international community “to publicly denounce the degradation of human rights in Egypt and demand the release of peaceful protesters who have been arbitrarily detained.
“The international community, and in particular allies of Egypt, have a duty to speak out in the face of the widespread crimes under international law and human rights violations. They must make it clear that Egypt’s continuing failure to address these gross abuses will have serious consequences for their diplomatic and business ties with the country,” said Najia Bounaim, North Africa Campaigns Director at Amnesty International.
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