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Amnesty presses Egypt to release detainees after rare protests

Rights group reports at least 496 people have been detained by Cairo since crackdown on protests began last month
Police had fired tear gas and in some instances live ammunition at demonstrators.
Police had fired tear gas and in some instances live ammunition at demonstrators (AFP/File photo)

Amnesty International has called on Egyptian authorities to release hundreds of people who were arrested during anti-government protests last month, and urged an investigation into the killing of two people during the demonstrations.

"We call on the authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all those detained solely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly," Philip Luther, Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa research and advocacy director, said in a statement on Friday.

The protests broke out in mid-September in response to a call by exiled whistleblower and activist Mohamed Ali, who later urged people in the country to take part in a "day of rage" to demand the departure of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. 

Residents of at least 40 villages responded to the call, according to video footage posted online and shared by Ali's supporters in the absence of coverage by pro-government Egyptian media. 

The small-scale but rare demonstrations came amid mounting anger, particularly in rural and low-income areas, against sweeping government campaigns to stop illegal construction that has required people to pay fines to legalise home ownership.

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"The fact that these protesters took to the streets while knowing the very high risk to their lives and safety... shows how desperate they were to demand their economic and social rights," Luther said.

Egypt: At least one protester killed in anti-Sisi protests, hundreds detained
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"The authorities have yet again resorted to their usual tactics of violence and mass arrests to send a clear message that no form of protest will be tolerated."

Amnesty reported that at least 496 people have been detained by Egyptian authorities since the crackdown on the protests began.

On Sunday, Egypt's public prosecutor said it ordered the release of 68 children under the age of 15 who took part in "riots".

In addition to the detentions, the rights group reported that police had fired "birdshot" - the smallest size of pellets used in shotguns - at demonstrators, as well as tear gas and in some instances live ammunition.

According to Ahmed Mefreh, director of the Geneva-based Committee for Justice, a 25-year-old protester was shot dead by riot police in the village of Balayda in Giza governorate.

Amnesty said a second man was shot dead on 30 September during a police raid.

Since coming to power in July 2013, following a military coup against the country's first democratically elected president, Sisi has fiercely suppressed dissent under a perpetual state of emergency.

Tens of thousands of people have been arrested - many of them critics, writers, journalists, human rights defenders and peaceful protesters. Thousands have been jailed without trial under Egypt's abusive pretrial detention system. 

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