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(London) – British Prime Minister David Cameron should press Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to take urgent, concrete steps to address grave human rights abuses by his government, Human Rights Watch said today. Cameron is due to meet al-Sisi during his visit to the United Kingdom on November 5, 2015, and hold talks at Downing Street.

In a letter to Cameron, Human Rights Watch says Egypt is in the grip of the “worst human rights crisis in decades.”

Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi talks during a television interview broadcast in Cairo on May 6, 2014. © 2014 Reuters

“UK government ministers have suggested that Egypt is making progress toward democracy, but this claim is absurd in the context of mass repression,” said David Mepham, UK director at Human Rights Watch. “Under the leadership of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Egypt is carrying out an unprecedented crackdown on dissent and opposition, trampling over fundamental rights, and entrenching the authoritarian state that so many Egyptians revolted against in 2011.” 

While Egypt does face a serious insurgency in Sinai Province, the government’s attempts to depict all of its critics as “terrorists” or “national security threats” are false and deeply counterproductive to its purported counterterrorism efforts, Human Rights Watch said. The Egyptian leadership’s likely adoption of further heavy-handed and abusive counterterrorism measures will exacerbate the country’s polarization still further.

There has been a total lack of accountability for the mass killing of protesters by Egyptian security forces in July and August 2013, which left an estimated 1,150 people dead. Police, supported by the army, killed at least 817 people in a single day on August 14, 2013, during the dispersal of Muslim Brotherhood protesters at a sit-in at Cairo’s Rab’a al-Adawiya Square.

Egyptian security forces detained, charged, or sentenced at least 41,000 people between July 2013 and April 2014 in cases connected to the political upheaval, most because of their alleged support for or association with the Muslim Brotherhood. Many are languishing in overcrowded and unsanitary detention centers.  

Egypt has also cracked down on nongovernmental groups, including an investigation into independent organizations that receive foreign funding.

“Prime Minister Cameron should stop talking up reform in Egypt and speak out on the terrible human rights crisis there,” Mepham said. “He should call publicly for the immediate release of all those jailed solely for peaceful protest or for their political or religious sympathies, and urge Egypt to end abuses conducted in the name of counterterrorism.”

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