Hundreds of people have been arrested across Egypt in a crackdown that followed calls for anti-government protests, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Friday, as the COP27 climate summit drew to a close.
The US-based rights group saw documentation from the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF), which detailed the arrests of 700 people across 18 Egyptian provinces between October 1 and November 14.
The ECRF says some individuals were detained merely for responding on social media to calls for protests over Egypt’s economic crisis. Among those arrested are activists, journalists, a prominent lawyer, and an opposition party member.
“From surveillance to intimidation to outright arrests, the behavior of Egyptian authorities while the spotlight is on the country raises alarm bells about what may happen after COP27 is over,” said Lama Fakih, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Egypt’s international partners should press Egyptian authorities both publicly and privately to respect the right of its citizens to speak critically about human rights and end the country’s human rights crisis.”
Around 40 of those arrested since October 1 have been not been brought before prosecution officials, and their whereabouts are unknown, according to the ECRF.
The regime of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi is believed to hold up to 60,000 political opponents in prison, many of them in brutal conditions and overcrowded cells. It has also long been accused of forcibly disappearing dissidents.
Rights groups say the enforced disappearances, which violate international law, put detainees under higher risk of torture, which is routinely used in Egyptial jails.
Egypt's rights record has come under increased scrutiny amid its hosting of the UN's COP27 climate change conference.
Activists and several world leaders at the conference urged Egyptian authorities to release jailed activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, who had launched a water and food strike to coincide with the conference.
Abdel Fattah wrote to his family on Monday to say he had ended the strike, and on Thursday his family was allowed access for the first time in nearly a month in the prison, north of Cairo.
Some of those arrests since October have been in relation to calls for Abdel Fattah's release, according to HRW.
Egyptian human rights defenders - who have stepped into a rare spotlight on the summit's sidelines - fear what will happen once the summit's cameras are gone.
“Egyptian activists have boldly spoken about the escalating human rights abuses in the country at COP27,” Fakih said. “The authorities need to constructively engage with civil society rather than retaliate against them for exercising their basic rights.”