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HRW: Egypt Uses Counterterrorism Laws to Prosecute Critics

Egyptian security forces stand guard outside the court during the trial of human rights lawyer and ex-presidential candidate, Khaled Ali in Cairo, Jan. 3, 2018.

A human rights watchdog says Egyptian authorities "are increasingly using counterterrorism and state-of-emergency laws and courts to unjustly prosecute journalists, activists, and critics for their peaceful criticism."

Human Rights Watch said Sunday the abusive practices and distortion of counterterrorism measures happened while Egypt was chairing "one of the key United Nations committees to ensure compliance with counterterrorism resolutions and while the U.N.'s most senior counterterrorism official was visiting the country."

Nadim Houry, HRW's terrorism/counterterrorism director, said "While Egypt faces security threats, the government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi has exploited these threats cynically as a cover to prosecute peaceful critics and to revive the infamous Mubarak-era state security courts."

The watchdog says before the presidential election in March the Egyptian police and National Security Agency forces carried out a "wave of arrests of critics" of the president. After the election the arrests continued with the detention of prominent activists and journalists under Egypt's 2015 counterterrorism law. HRW says the law "criminalizes a wide range of acts, including publishing or promoting news about terrorism, if it contradicts official statements."

Some cases, according to the human rights group, have been transferred to the Emergency State Security Courts that the government claims are being used only against terrorists and drug traffickers. These courts, however, do not guarantee a fair trial and their decisions are not subject to appeal, HRW reports.