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UK minister in Egypt for investment talks as mass trial of activists continues

Campaigners urge Andrew Murrison to 'speak out', as the British foreign office minister meets Egyptian officials
Rights groups have criticised the mass trial of 304 detainees as politically motivated (AFP)

A British government minister has been criticised for travelling to Cairo to discuss investment in Egypt despite concerns raised by human rights groups about the mass trial of activists who could face death sentences if convicted.

The UK's government confirmed on Sunday that Andrew Murrison, a foreign office minister responsible for Middle Eastern and North African relations, had arrived in Cairo to meet Sahar Nasr, Egypt's investment minister.

On Monday, Murrison tweeted images of his meeting with Nasr, as well as with Amr Ramadan, Egypt's assistance foreign minister.

But Reprieve, a London-based legal organisation campaigning against the death penalty, called on Murrison to "speak out" about an ongoing mass trial of activists in which more than 300 people, including four teenagers, are facing possible death sentences if convicted.

The case, known as 64/2017, began in November 2017 and has dragged on for nearly 18 months over the course of 50 court sessions. 

Rights groups have condemned the mass trial and described the court proceedings as politically motivated. 

The four teenagers on trial - Ammar el-Sudany, Belal Hasnein, Mohamed Badr, and Abdullah Moniem - were all arrested as teenagers for protesting against the Egyptian government.

The families of the four young men told Reprieve they had all been held with adult detainees and subject to severe overcrowding, prevented from bathing for months and given little access to food, medicine, and clothing. 

"When teenagers are facing death sentences for the 'crime' of protesting against the regime, Egypt's international partners are right to speak out. Britain should take the lead," a Reprieve spokesperson told Middle East Eye. 

"President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has complained about international criticism of the Egyptian justice system, but a politically-motivated mass trial of more than three hundred people, including several who were children at the time of their alleged offences, is surely too egregious a violation of international law for the UK government to ignore."

Lawyers for all four defendants have informed the court of their clients’ age and, in some cases, their torture allegations and coerced confessions.

Middle East Eye asked the foreign office whether Murrison would meet representatives of Egyptian civil society organisations during his visit, but had not received a response at the time of publication.