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Actress Helen Hunt denounced for speaking at Egypt conference

Human rights advocates accused the American actress of whitewashing abuses of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's government
Hunt is featured as a paid speaker on several websites that connect event organisers to celebrities (AFP)

Egyptian activists are denouncing award-winning American actress Helen Hunt for participating in a state-sponsored youth conference in Egypt, accusing her of “whitewashing” well-documented human rights abuses under the government of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

Hunt delivered on Sunday the keynote speech at the World Youth Forum at the Red Sea resort of Sharm El Sheikh. The conference’s organisers say the event aims to promote a "message of peace, prosperity, harmony and progress to the entire world."

But Egyptian human rights campaigners slammed the forum, using its own Twitter hashtag #WeNeedToTalk to highlight the government’s brutal crackdown on dissent.

On Monday, rights advocates, including prominent activists Mona Seif and Mohamed Zaree, penned a letter to Hunt, criticising her for what they called endorsing a “dictator” who does not tolerate free speech. The letter was signed by more than 400 people.

“[Sisi] jails journalists for doing their jobs, youth for expressing their opinions, writers for writing fiction that violates "public morality", gays for coming out, supporters of LGBTQ for daring to support diversity, and he has blocked more than 400 different websites and media platforms,” the letter reads.

Egyptian authorities arrested dozens of people for homosexuality last month, after the rainbow flag was raised at a concert in Cairo.

"As you shake hands with Sisi, smile, take a photo, let history note that you chose to support a dictator responsible for thousands of deaths, arbitrary detentions and disappearances," the letter says.

Hunt, who has won an Oscar for the 1997 movie As Good as it Gets, expressed support for the #MeToo campaign against sexual assault in her speech at Sharm El Sheikh.

But Seif, the activist, pointed to the double standards of bringing such an issue at an event organised by the Egyptian government.

In 2011, seven Egyptian protesters were sexually assaulted in the name of “virginity tests”, which have been condemned by human rights and medical groups, including the UN's World Health Organisaton.

Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and other rights groups have accused Egyptian security forces of torture and arbitrary detentions to silence dissent.

“Prosecutions, travel bans and asset freezes against human rights defenders, in addition to repressive new legislation, threaten to effectively eradicate independent civil society,” HRW has said.

Hunt is featured as a paid speaker on several websites that connect event organisers to celebrities.

“I’m sure @HelenHunt was briefed on repressive record of #Sisi’s regime, yet she made a conscious decision to partake in whitewashing regime,” activist Mohamed Soltan wrote on Twitter. 

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