Egypt: Arrests Escalate Ahead of Unfair Elections

Cairo – Egyptian authorities carried out a series of arbitrary arrests in late January and February, 2018, in an escalating crackdown against political opposition, Human Rights Watch said today. Among those arrested is Abd al-Moniem Abu al-Fotouh, a 2012 presidential candidate and the head of the Strong Egypt Party.

The intensifying repression and the use of terrorism-related charges against peaceful activists are emblematic of a government strategy to silence critical voices ahead of the planned presidential elections on March 26-28. Human Rights Watch and 13 other rights organizations have said that they lacked “the minimum requirements for free and fair elections.”

“Abu al-Fotouh’s arrest underlines the government message that criticizing President al-Sisi in the lead-up to the presidential elections is forbidden,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Elections should stimulate political debate and reflect the popular will, but al-Sisi’s government wants to ensure with its heavy-handed repression that this is not the case in Egypt.”

Following his arrest, a court placed Abu al-Fotouh and 15 members of his partyon the country’s terrorism list based on flawed laws, without hearings or due process, for alleged contacts with the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. The Egyptian authorities should annul these arbitrary terrorist designations and immediately release Abu al-Fotouh and all those arrested solely for expressing criticism or participating in peaceful activism, Human Rights Watch said.

Authorities also arrested Mohamed al-Qassas, the Strong Egypt Party’s deputy president; Mohamed Abd al-Latif Talaat, secretary-general of the centrist Al-Wasat Party; and Hesham Geneina, former head of the Central Auditing Agency. All remain in detention.

On February 14, security forces raided a party meeting at Abu al-Fotouh’s house in a Cairo suburb, arresting him and six other party leaders, who were subsequently released, media reports said.

The Interior Ministry said in a February 15 statement that they arrested Abu al-Fotouh with the Supreme State Security Prosecution’s “permission” based on “information” from the ministry’s National Security Agency (NSA) claiming that he held secret meetings with Brotherhood members in London and gave media interviews as part of a plot for “stirring chaos and instability.” The statement also alleged that police confiscated documents with “assignments” for Abu al-Fotouh, including on “how to mobilize crowds” and “bringing down the political and legal state’s legitimacy.”

Human Rights Watch

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