Amnesty International is calling on David Cameron to use this week’s visit to the UK of the Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to raise key human rights concerns in Egypt.
President al-Sisi is reportedly due to visit Britain later this week, and in meetings with the prime minister the Egyptian leader is expected to discuss regional security issues, including the continued unrest in Libya.
Since the ousting of President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013, tens of thousands of people in Egypt have been detained, charged or tried in a sweeping crackdown on dissent that has targeted alleged supporters of the banned Muslim Brotherhood group, as well as journalists, human rights activists and other perceived government opponents. Grossly unfair mass trials have seen courts hand down death sentences or long prison sentences against hundreds of people.
Those detained in the crackdown include:
* Mahmoud Mohamed Ahmed Hussein, a 19-year-old student has been detained since his arrest in January 2014 for wearing a t-shirt with a “Nation Without Torture” logo following a protest. His family have told Amnesty that security forces had tortured and ill-treated him in detention, including by subjecting him to electric shocks and beatings.
* Student Israa Al-Taweel, 23, who is disabled, was arrested by security forces on 1 June. She had no chance to contact a lawyer or her family and they spent 15 days desperately looking for her. She faces accusations of “belonging to a banned group” and “broadcasting false news”. Al-Taweel has not received adequate medical treatment in detention for an injury sustained in a protest in January 2014 that left her unable to walk without regular and intensive physiotherapy.
President al-Sisi’s arrival in the UK is key test of whether David Cameron is prepared to do more than roll out red carpets for authoritarian leadersAmnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:
“We want to see David Cameron personally raising human rights issues in talks with President al-Sisi.
“There have been horrifying mass death sentences since President al-Sisi came to power – some after grossly unfair trials – and thousands have been detained in an attempt to quash all opposition. Almost no-one’s escaped attention in al-Sisi’s crackdown, with members of the Muslim Brotherhood, peaceful protesters and journalists all now languishing in jail.
“During the Chinese president’s visit the world got the distinct impression that the UK was sidelining human rights to secure Chinese money for things like powers stations.
“Are we going to see a more principled approach from Mr Cameron when it comes to Mr al-Sisi’s visit?”
UK officials should also urge Egypt to repeal laws introduced in the name of restoring “stability and security”, but which in practice have eroded the rule of law in Egypt and facilitated gross human rights violations. These include the 2013 Protest Law, which gives security forces sweeping powers to disperse demonstrations not approved by the authorities, as well as the August 2015 Counter-terrorism Law, which gives the president emergency-style powers and erodes fair trial guarantees.
The deaths of hundreds of protesters and others since July 2013 at the hands of the Egyptian security forces should also be an issue of deepest concern to UK officials. Amnesty has documented a repeated pattern of excessive and unnecessary force by Egypt’s security forces. In the worst incident, on 14 August 2013, security forces killed hundreds of protesters at Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adawiya Square.
Egypt does face a security threat, and the authorities have claimed that hundreds of members of the security forces have died in attacks by armed groups, with judicial officials also targeted. However, the Egyptian authorities have failed to put in place any meaningful safeguards on the use of force by security forces, while official investigations into political violence have whitewashed over their role.
UK arms sales
In 2013, the scale of the violence in Egypt prompted EU foreign ministers to suspend export licences to Egypt for any equipment which might be used for “internal repression”. Given various arms deals with the Egyptian authorities agreed by the UK earlier this year – consisting of components for military vehicles – Amnesty is insisting that the UK authorities ensure that they do not transfer arms or equipment that may be used by the Egyptian authorities to commit or facilitate serious human rights violations.