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US speaks out over Egypt's crackdown on activists

Human rights are considered when deciding on aid to Egypt, State Department spokesman says
US State Department spokesman Ned Price speaks during a briefing on 31 March 31, 2021.
US State Department spokesman Ned Price speaks during a briefing on 31 March 31, 2021 (AFP)
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Washington

The United States has spoken of its "concern" over Egypt's targeting of rights campaigners after another prominent activist was indicted, saying the issue of human rights was a factor in arms sales to Washington's ally.

"The United States is concerned by continued detentions, indictments, and harassment of Egyptian civil society leaders, academics, and journalists, including the indictment of Director General of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), Hossam Bahgat," State Department Spokesperson Ned Price told reporters in a news conference on Wednesday.

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Bahgat, executive director of the EIPR, said this week that prosecutors had indicted him, and that his trial would start on 7 September - on charges related to his use of social media, including a tweet that criticised election authorities.

"We've communicated to the Egyptian government our strong belief that individuals such as Hossam Bahgat should not be targeted for expressing their views peacefully," Price said.

Asked if the issue would affect a major arms package for Egypt under consideration, Price declined to discuss funding, but said: "Human rights across the board is something we look at very closely in making those decisions."

Earlier on Wednesday, the highest civilian court in Egypt rejected an appeal by a group of 13 people - including two prominent activists - who were disputing their being placed on a terrorist list, a judicial source said.

The 13 have been detained since 2019 in the Hope coalition case, in which authorities accused the group of being funded by the Muslim Brotherhood in order to incite revolution and commit violence.

Egypt military aid

President Joe Biden vowed as a presidential candidate in 2020 that there would be no more "blank cheques" for Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who formed a close alliance with Biden's predecessor, Donald Trump.

Since Sisi seized power in 2013, hundreds of journalists, activists, lawyers and intellectuals have been arrested.

At least 60,000 political prisoners, detained as part of Sisi's crackdown, are still languishing in jails, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

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Despite this, in February, Washington approved a $200m arms sale to Egypt around the same time news emerged that family members of American activist Mohamed Soltan had been detained by Egyptian authorities. The move was met with outrage from rights advocates.

Rights groups have for months called on the Biden administration to take concrete steps in holding Egypt accountable for its human rights violations, including halting $300m in military aid to the north African country.

However, Biden's request for that aid to Egypt for next year, released in May, reflects no change in Washington's slated military assistance.

Congress has been imposing human rights conditions that would stop $300m out of the total $1.3bn military aid planned for Egypt, but the two previous administrations of Barack Obama and Donald Trump have issued national security waivers to bypass the restrictions.