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Human Rights Watch: Staff threatened in wake of Egypt report

HRW report details serious abuses, including 'war crimes' in North Sinai by Egyptian government forces and Islamic State-affiliated militants
Egyptian police driving on road leading to North Sinai provincial capital of El-Arish (AFP/file photo)

Human Rights Watch issued a statement accusing Egypt's state-controlled media of launching a smear campaign against its staff, including directly threatening HRW staff with serious physical harm, following a report alleging that Egyptian police and armed forces had committed widespread human rights violations while fighting militants in the Sinai Peninsula.

On 28 May, HRW released a 134-page report that details serious abuses, including what it said were war crimes, that Egyptian government forces and Islamic State-affiliated militants have carried out in North Sinai.

The report documents arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, torture, extrajudicial killings and possibly unlawful air and ground attacks against civilians, the Associated Press said.

"Instead of taking time to study the Human Rights Watch report about government abuses of civilians in Sinai, Egyptian authorities have flatly denied any wrongdoing and unleashed a vile media attack on human rights defenders and organizations," said Liesl Gernholtz, acting deputy executive director for the programme at HRW.

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"The Egyptian government should stop attacking the messenger and instead listen to Sinai residents' grievances, investigate abuses, and allow evicted people to return to their homes as soon as the situation permits," she added.

Last February, Egypt began a massive anti-militant operation, mainly focused on Sinai but also on parts of Egypt's Nile Delta and the Western Desert along the porous border with Libya.

Shadi Hamid, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, told MEE earlier in the conflict: "The Egyptian military is simply rather bad at counter-terrorism and counterinsurgency operations, and American officials will often complain about the unwillingness of the Egyptian military to revisit or adapt its methods."

The military has destroyed whole villages while offering little to solve the region's deep social and economic problems, including chronic unemployment, illiteracy and poor access to health care.

Multiple accounts of torture and extrajudicial executions by the military, as well as indiscriminate military tactics have often inflicted civilian casualties and sown widespread resentment.

Along with the report, the HRW released a promotional video featuring Egyptian staff member Amr Magdy, the AP reported. Europe-based Magdy has become a target of Egyptian media in recent days.

Ahmed Moussa, a long-time pro-government television host accused Magdy of being a terrorist and a traitor and vowed that one day he would be extradited to Egypt and punished, AP said.

Several newspapers and television channels echoed the official response to the report alleging that HRW receives funds from Egypt's enemies.