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Rights groups call on Biden to condemn Egypt's abuses, halt military aid

Advocates are urging US administration not to issue a waiver that would send $300m in military aid to Cairo
Members of Congress have criticised Biden for continuing arms sales to Egypt as it continues to target Egyptian activists.
Members of Congress have criticised Biden for continuing arms sales to Egypt as it continues to target Egyptian activists (AFP)
By in
Washington

More than a dozen rights groups have urged the Biden administration to condemn the apparent request by Egypt to imprison an American activist and former political prisoner, and to not use a national security waiver to forward $300m in military aid to the country.

"We, the undersigned groups, are appalled by evidence that the Egyptian government and intelligence apparatus persist in efforts to silence human rights defenders even beyond Egypt’s borders," the 20 groups said in their statement.

"We call on the US government to condemn these actions."

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Amnesty International USA, Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), Freedom House,  The Freedom Initiative, Human Rights Watch, PEN America and the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) were among the letter's signatories.

It comes weeks after Politico reported that Egypt's spy chief, Abbas Kamel, claimed the US agreed to imprison Egyptian-American activist Mohamed Soltan after he was released from an Egyptian prison in 2015.

Soltan was arrested in 2013, shortly after the military ousted President Mohamed Morsi, the country's first democratically elected leader.

Kamel had asked lawmakers in Washington last month why Soltan was "free and living in Virginia" when the US had promised Egypt that he would serve the remainder of his life sentence in a US prison.

"We urge the Biden administration to make clear publicly that the Egyptian government’s request to imprison Soltan will not be considered," the letter said.

"The coordinated harassment and intimidation campaign against Soltan is part of the Egyptian government’s broader repression of rights and freedoms in Egypt and aims to stigmatize human rights defenders, both nationally and abroad, and undermine the effectiveness of their work."

'Send a clear message on human rights'

Since seizing power, the government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is reported to have jailed more than 60,000 dissidents, according to human rights organisations.

In 2014, Congress began imposing human rights conditions on parts of the $1.3bn in military aid, but former presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump both issued national security waivers to bypass the restrictions.

The rights conditions would halt $300m in military aid to the country, and rights advocates are calling on Secretary of State Antony Blinken to not issue another national security waiver to bypass the halt in assistance.

Blinken has until the end of September to decide on whether to continue with the aid or not.

'We urge the Secretary to consider the continuing widespread repression of rights and freedoms in Egypt'

- Letter from rights groups

"We urge the Secretary to consider the continuing widespread repression of rights and freedoms in Egypt and the brazen efforts of the Egyptian authorities to intimidate and stigmatize human rights defenders and other peaceful government critics in Egypt and abroad, including in the United States, and to send a clear message on human rights by not using the waiver," the letter said.

Rights groups have been campaigning the Biden administration to halt the military aid to Egypt over the country's crackdown on activists, journalists, and political dissidents.

Friday's effort follows a similar letter sent to Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan in April, also urging the administration not to use the waiver and continue aid.

Members of Congress, meanwhile, have criticised Biden for continuing arms sales to Egypt as it continues to target Egyptian activists, including by arresting family members of Egyptians living in the US.