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The News - 22 days ago

Egypt under fire over ?shrinking? freedoms during UN rights review

GENEVA: Egypt faced strong criticism at a UN review of its rights record Wednesday, with diplomats voicing alarm over detention conditions and shrinking freedoms in the country recently rocked by mass protests.Speaking before the United Nations in Geneva, Egyptian Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Omar Marwan insisted that Egypt was making great efforts to improve respect for human rights.But during the so-called Universal Periodic Review, which all 193 UN countries must undergo approximately every four years, representatives of a wide range of countries voiced concern over serious abuses.Many voiced alarm at allegations of torture, extra-judicial killings, and enforced disappearances, as well as concerns over mass trials, dire conditions in detention, discrimination against women and use of the death penalty.But shrinking space for civil society in the country seemed to be a particular concern, after some 4,000 people, including lawyers, activists, professors and journalists, were detained in a wave of arrests following rare protests against Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in September.Sisi has faced international condemnation for a crackdown on civil society groups since he took power in 2014, a year after the military toppled president Mohamed Morsi. We remain particularly concerned by restrictions on human rights defenders and political activists, including arrests, travel bans and asset freezes, British Ambassador Julien Braithwaite told the assembly.Swedish Ambassador Veronika Bard agreed, urging Egypt to stop unduly restricting space for civil society, including through asset freezes, travel bans, long periods of pre-trial detention and growing numbers of arrests. But Marwan flatly denied the country was restricting free speech and assembly.In interview with AFP after the review, he maintained that there is a right to demonstrate... (and) everyone has the right to express their opinions. But they are not allowed to vandalise or commit violence or incite to hatred, he said, speaking through a translator. A number of diplomats also voiced concern Wednesday over conditions in detention in Egypt, amid accusations by rights groups of torture, overcrowding and medical negligence in jails.


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