A UN rights expert condemned Egypt for targeting journalists, human rights defenders and their families, and called on authorities to stop silencing dissent and shrinking civic space in the country.
Mary Lawlor, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, said in a statement on Friday that she was “extremely concerned by the seemingly unrelenting efforts of the Egyptian authorities to silence dissent… despite repeated calls from UN mechanisms and the international community”.
“These individuals should never have been targeted for their human rights activities in the first place, and so I repeat calls for the Egyptian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all detained human rights defenders, journalists, civil society actors and their family members.”
Lawlor specifically pointed to the detention of blogger Mohamed Ibrahim Radwan, who was charged by the Egyptian government of being a member of a terrorist organisation and “misuse of social media” for his coverage of human rights.
She also cited the case of Patrick Zaki, a post-graduate student from Italy who was arrested in February last year while visiting his parents.
According to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), security forces held Zaki incommunicado for 24 hours and tortured him before charges against him were announced.
“Not only are these human rights defenders, journalists and other civil society actors unduly targeted for their legitimate and peaceful defence of human rights and fundamental freedoms, they are wrongfully accused of belonging to terrorist organisations and portrayed as a national security threat under vague legal provisions,” Lawlor said.
A coalition of rights groups, including Reporters Without Borders and Human Rights Watch, sent a letter to the European Union on Thursday, raising concerns over “Egypt’s disregard for human rights.”
UN experts have previously accused Cairo of using special terrorism courts to imprison rights defenders and also silence dissent.
“Terrorism charges and exceptional courts are being used to target legitimate human rights activities, and have a profound chilling effect on civil society as a whole,” the UN Human Rights Council previously said in a statement.
“The use of terrorism courts to target and harass civil society is inconsistent with the rule of law.”
The special courts were created in 2013 after former military intelligence chief and current Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi overthrew the country’s first democratically elected government.
Egypt has embarked on a brutal crackdown on dissent since 2013, jailing more than 60,000 activists and imposing strict censorship measures on public discourse.
Sisi has consistently denied that there are political prisoners in Egypt, framing the crackdown as part of a fight against terrorism.