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The New Arab

UN rights chief denounces 'climate of intimidation' ahead of Egypt elections

Cairo has warned against false statements, rumours and news [Getty]

Date of publication: 8 March, 2018

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The UN human rights chief said there was a “pervasive climate of intimidation” in Egypt in the run-up to this month’s presidential elections, prompting Cairo to dismiss the claims.

A “pervasive climate of intimidation” is present in Egypt in the run-up to this month’s presidential elections, the UN human rights chief said on Wednesday, noting arrests, torture of detainees and “silencing” of independent media in the country.

Egypt has stepped up a crackdown on media outlets it deems to be publishing reports that might harm national security, as the country approaches an election where President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is virtually guaranteed a second term, and the military fights to crush Islamic State militants in the Sinai Peninsula.

In an annual report submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said “potential candidates have allegedly been pressured to withdraw, some through arrests”.

“Legislation prevents candidates and supporters from organising rallies. Independent media have been silenced, with over 400 media and NGO websites completely blocked,” he continued.

Last week, the state prosecution said on Wednesday that it would monitor news outlets and social media "in light of recent observed attempts to harm the security and safety of the homeland by publishing lies and false news".

Prosecutors were ordered to "take the necessary measures under the criminal law" against "false statements, news and rumours that harm public safety or bring terror into the hearts of individuals”.

Authorities are especially sensitive to any perceived criticism of the police or military.

Cairo hit back at the claims, dismissing the comments as “baseless allegations”.

“The foreign ministry calls on the High Commissioner for Human Rights to stop attacking the Egyptian state without any right, and to instead adopt a professional and objective approach, and pay attention to the progress achieved in the area of democratisation,” the statement said.

Since 2013, Egyptian authorities have sentenced hundreds to death and arrested tens of thousands of people following the ouster of former president Mohamed Morsi.

Sisi has overseen the crackdown and the regime he oversees is highly sensitive to any perceived public or private criticism of the government. 

Though Islamists have been largely targeted in the sweep, secularists and pro-democracy activists have also been jailed.

A wave of arrests have also taken place against pop singers, actors and others in entertainment.

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