Rights group: Egypt withheld documents of dissidents abroad

March 14, 2023 GMT
This is a locator map for Egypt with its capital, Cairo. (AP Photo)
This is a locator map for Egypt with its capital, Cairo. (AP Photo)

Egypt’s authorities refused to issue or renew passports, birth certificates and other documents for more than two dozens journalists, critics and lawyers living abroad, a leading rights group said Monday.

The U.S.-based group Human Rights Watch said the refusals are a sign that Egypt is widening its clampdown on dissent. “The government is ramping up efforts to punish and silence those abroad,” said Adam Coogle, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at HRW.

The group said it spoke to 26 Egyptians abroad, including dissidents, journalists and lawyers, whose requests for essential documents were rejected by the Egyptian authorities. Those affected live in Turkey, Germany, Malaysia, Qatar and two countries in Africa and the Gulf.

Egypt’s authorities did not immediately respond to a request by The Associated Press for comment.

Since coming to power in 2014, President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi’s government has overseen a wide-ranging crackdown on dissent, jailing thousands. Authorities have targeted not only Islamist political opponents but also pro-democracy activists, journalists and online critics. Thousands have since fled the country.

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Those interviewed by HRW said challenging Cairo’s refusal to provide documents was “nearly impossible,″ while some were told to return to Egypt to solve their issue. Several interviewees said Egypt’s refusal to do so was inhibiting their ability to live and travel abroad.

HRW did not reveal the identity or occupations of the 26, but said most of them had no pending criminal cases against them in Egypt.

In 2019, HRW estimated that as many as 60,000 political prisoners are incarcerated in Egyptian prisons, although Egypt’s government has rejected this claim. The Committee to Protect Journalists ranks Egypt third, behind China and Turkey, in detaining journalists.

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This story corrects the year President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi came to power. It was 2014, not 2013.