Mass arrests fuel human rights criticism in Egypt


Egypt is trying to deflect criticism of its human rights record and prison conditions ahead of a UN review in Geneva in the wake of thousands of new arrests.

The crackdown, which rights activists say was the most intensive campaign of arrests for years, came after rare protests against President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo and other cities in September.

More than 4 400 were detained, among them prominent activists, lawyers, academics and political figures, according to the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms.

Around 3 000 are still held under charges including using social media to spread false news, joining a banned terrorist group and protesting without a permit, ECRF said.

In September, Egypt’s public prosecution acknowledged the arrest of not more than 1 000 people accused of involvement in protests.

Some are detained in Cairo’s Tora prison, where relatives and lawyers say inmates are in poor conditions and denied adequate healthcare.

Tora is the prison complex where former president Mohamed Mursi, whose overthrow in 2013 was led by Sisi, suffered a fatal heart attack in June.

UN experts said the prison regime may have led directly to Mursi’s death after he was in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day and denied lifesaving care for diabetes and high blood pressure.

Thousands more are at risk, the experts said, adding two senior former aides of the banned Brotherhood were “effectively being killed by the conditions under which they are held and the denial of medical treatment”.

Egyptian officials deny mistreating prisoners or neglecting their health.


On Sunday, Egypt’s State Information Service released a video of an inspection of Tora by officials from the state security prosecution service. It included interviews with prisoners who said they were largely satisfied with conditions.

A series of photos in the film showed officials visiting a well-stocked pharmacy and grocery shop and tasting food in the prison refectory.

On Monday, selected local and foreign journalists were invited to visit Tora, where they were shown a football match for prisoners, farm animals and a metal workshop. They were not allowed to talk to inmates, according to one reporter.

State TV aired a short programme on the detention system with commentary saying prisons are being modernised in line with international standards.

Criticism from Western powers keen to develop security and economic ties with Sisi’s Egypt has been muted and the session in Geneva provides a forum where they can pose questions publicly.

The UN Human Rights Council will review Egypt’s record for the first time in five years as part of the forum’s regular appraisal of UN member states.

Advance questions cover prison conditions, torture and recent arrests of activists, among others. Rights lawyer, Mohamed al-Baqer, was interrogated over his engagement with the UN review following his detention, according to a question submitted by Liechtenstein.

International rights group Amnesty International called on states “to vehemently condemn the vicious crackdown by authorities against NGO workers and civil society”.

It said since accepting 237 of 300 recommendations at its last review in 2014, Egyptian authorities “adopted even more repressive measures further restricting basic rights and freedoms”.