US legislators call on Egypt’s el-Sisi to release prisoners

Letter urges Egyptian president to release activists, journalists, lawyers and prisoners of conscience.

A picture taken during a guided tour organised by Egypt's State Information Service on February 11, 2020, shows prisoners waiting their turn to receive treatment at Tora prison clinic in the Egyptian capital, Cairo [File: Khaled Desouki/AFP]

More than 50 United States politicians are calling on Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to release activists, journalists, lawyers and prisoners of conscience.

In a letter released on Monday, 55 congressional Democrats (and one independent) urged el-Sisi to release those “unjustly detained for exercising their fundamental human rights”.

The letter is spearheaded by three Democratic lawmakers: Ro Khanna, Jim McGovern and Sherrod Brown.

“The unjust detention of Egyptian human rights defenders, peaceful political activists and other prisoners of conscience is in direct opposition to the rights and freedoms enshrined in Egyptian and American law,” said McGovern.

The politicians warned that the continued unjust imprisonment might result in their deaths in the face of significant COVID-19 outbreaks in Egyptian prisons.

“We are deeply disturbed that in the middle of a pandemic, the Egyptian government continues to wrongfully hold these political prisoners in overcrowded prisons – places where we know COVID-19 can spread like wildfire and cause severe illness and death,” added McGovern.

The lawmakers warned that the continued unjust imprisonment might result in their deaths in the face of massive COVID-19 outbreaks in Egyptian prisons [File: Khaled Desouki /AFP] (AFP)

“Even in the middle of a global pandemic, President Sisi continues to lock up prisoners in notoriously overcrowded, dangerous prisons,” said Khanna.

“As the second largest recipient of US foreign military financing, US lawmakers have a special responsibility to press the Sisi government to free political prisoners and end its systematic human rights violations,” added Khanna. “President Sisi must release human rights activists, lawyers and other prisoners of conscience before they face a COVID-19 death sentence behind bars.”

The letter specifically calls for the release of political activists Ramy Shaath, Zyad el-Elaimy, and Alaa Abdel Fattah; human rights lawyers Mohamed el Baqer and Mahienour el-Massry; journalists Esraa Abdel Fattah and Solafa Magdy, and other unjustly detained prisoners of conscience facing life-and-death risks in Egyptian prisons.

The letter warned el-Sisi that “the imprisonment of prisoners of conscience and other violations of human rights fundamentally undermines our countries’ mutual interests and values”.

Egypt’s government has waged an unprecedented crackdown on dissent since 2013 when el-Sisi led a military coup that deposed his democratically elected predecessor, Mohamed Morsi of the now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood movement.

Al Jazeera journalist Mahmoud Hussein has been held without trial for nearly 1,400 days, and has suffered a broken arm while in solitary. He was denied medical treatment.

Hussein was accused of “incitement against state institutions and broadcasting false news with the aim of spreading chaos”, allegations he and the Al Jazeera Media Network deny.

In April, the United Nations urged Egypt to release prisoners “convicted of non-violent offences and those who are in pretrial detention who make up just below one-third of those in jail”.

It noted Egypt’s detention facilities are often overcrowded, unhygienic and lack resources.

In a report last July, Human Rights Watch said at least 14 prisoners and detainees have died, most likely from COVID-19 complications, in 10 detention facilities.

Source: Al Jazeera