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Egypt is targeting families of exiled dissidents at home, says HRW

At least 28 exiled dissidents have faced reprisals for their criticism of Sisi, a new report has found
Egyptian government critics (L to R) Mohamed Ali, Wael Ghonim, Hisham Abdullah, Abdullah al-Sharif, Moataz Matar, Haytham Abu Khalil, Hamza Zawba (AFP and Twitter)

Egypt’s government has targeted families of exiled dissidents in reprisal for their criticism of the country’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, an international rights group said on Tuesday.

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), at least 28 Egyptian government critics who live abroad have complained that their family members in Egypt have been harassed by security services, apparently in order to silence their relatives. 

“Egyptian authorities, determined to stifle dissent, have been punishing families of opponents abroad,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The government should cease these vindictive attacks, which amount to collective punishment.” 

The reprisals, according to a report by HRW, are “widespread, organised, and increasing.”

The rights group said it has documented 28 cases of reprisals, in which security forces raided the homes of relatives of 14 dissidents, without arrest warrants, and in five cases confiscated or damaged personal belongings. 

Moreover, the Egyptian government has banned the relatives of eight dissidents from travelling and confiscated their passports, detained or prosecuted 20 relatives of 11 dissidents, and prosecuted many relatives on charges that include joining a terrorist group or publishing false news.

The measures have prompted other activists and journalists living abroad to refrain from criticising the government publicly to protect their families.  

Those whose families have been targeted include Mohamed Ali, the self-exiled contractor and whistle-blower whose videos exposing alleged corruption in the Egyptian military triggered rare protests in September. Ali has since emerged as Sisi’s most vocal critic.

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As a reaction to his videos, authorities arrested seven of his company’s employees in Cairo, and two of his cousins, who remain missing. 

Another government critic, TV presenter Haytham Abu Khalil, told HRW that security forces raided his mother and sister’s homes in Alexandria following an episode of his TV show in which he showed pictures of members of Sisi’s family. 

Abu Khalil said that security forces “stole the phones, the tablet devices, passports and all the cash they found.” They also interrogated his sister about his activism, he added.

The TV anchor, now based in Turkey, added that his brother Amr has been arrested and is now detained in Cairo’s notorious Tora maximum security prison, also known as Scorpion Prison. His brother suffers from diabetes and hypertension, and the family has not been allowed to send him medicine or food, he said.

Other well-known activists whose families were targeted include activist Wael Ghonim, TV presenters Moataz Matar, Hisham Abdullah and Hamza Zawba, and YouTuber Abdullah al-Sharif.

Sharif said in media statements last month that armed men raided his parents' home in Alexandria and forced his father and other family members to record video clips condemning his anti-government videos.

Sharif had posted videos showing leaked footage from luxury residences allegedly built for Sisi and his family, revelations which Mohamed Ali first exposed in his video testimonies in September.