Amnesty warns of 'massive crackdown' in Egypt as arrests continue
Amnesty International has called on world leaders to stop a massive crackdown on opposition protesters by the regime of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, a day after US President Donald Trump met with the Egyptian dictator and called him "a great leader".
In a statement issued today Amnesty International said that Egyptian security forces "have carried out sweeping arrests of protesters, rounded up journalists, human rights lawyers, activists, protesters and political figures in a bid to silence critics and deter further protests from taking place".
The Amnesty statement quoted the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights as saying that 964 people had been arrested in relation to protests in Egypt between 19 and 24 September.
Protesters in Egypt gathered in streets and public squares on Friday and Saturday, calling for the resignation of Sisi, following the publication of videos by self-exiled construction contractor Mohamed Ali.
Ali accused Sisi of using public funds to build luxurious palaces for himself and his family.
The construction of the palaces happened at a time when the poverty rate in Egypt was increasing and pro-Sisi media told the population to live frugally and spend less.
The scandal has been dubbed "Palacegate" by some observers.
Amnesty International spokesperson Najia Bounaim said, "These protests came as a shock because the authorities thought they had permanently intimidated protesters through the heavy-handed tactics of the past six years including arbitrary arrests and the use of excessive force, including lethal force."
Thousands of opposition activists have been arrested ever since the 2013 military coup which brought Sisi to power.
In August of that year, Egyptian security forces massacred hundreds of anti-coup protesters in Cairo's Rabaa Al-Adawiya square.
"The fact that protesters risked their lives and liberty to protest against President al-Sisi's rule suggests his ruthless tactics have garnered frustration and anger," Bounaim added.
Among those arrested were 15 members of the banned Independence Party which had previously announced its support for the protests.
They included the party's General-Secretary, Majdi Qirqir and Sahar Ali, a lawyer who was arrested on Tuesday after spending the previous two days defending detainees at the Supreme State Security Prosecutor's office.
Another prominent lawyer, Mahienour El-Massry, who won the Ludovic Trarieux Award in 2014 for her contributions to human rights, has been sentenced to 15 days in prison.
Amnesty said that those detained were being investigated on charges including "aiding a terrorist group in achieving its goals", "spreading false news", "participating in unauthorised protests" and "misusing social media" to disseminate information of a "terrorist group", a term used to describe the Muslim Brotherhood.
In videos released on Monday evening, Mohamed Ali, who has fled to Barcelona in Spain, said that his life was in danger from Egyptian intelligence operatives.
But he called on people to continue protests next Friday, telling them not to fear arrest or violence by security forces but also to stay on the move and not to form sit-ins like those previously organised in Rabaa Square, because this could make them an easier target.
The Batil (Null and Void) Campaign, which in April 2019 organised a petition against constitutional amendments which will allow Sisi to stay in power until 2030, added its support to protests on Tuesday.
Sisi had "drowned Egypt in debt and corruption and wasted the wealth of the people", the campaigning group said in a statement.