For Immediate Release
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Egypt’s Foreign Minister defends mass imprisonment on US visit
WASHINGTON - The Egyptian Foreign Minister has defended his government's mass imprisonment of political activists, and the use of lengthy pre-trial detention periods, during a visit to Washington DC to meet with US Secretary of State John Kerry among other officials.
In an interview with NPR that aired today, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry defended the detention without trial of activists and others arrested at protests in 2013, saying that arrests only took place where protestors didn’t have ‘permits’. Asked why many protestors were still imprisoned and awaiting trial two years later, he said: “It is a long time, but I believe justice has to be given the opportunity, within the impartiality of the judicial system, to ascertain all of the facts and to pass a verdict”.
Mr Shoukry added that “no country” has a perfect human rights record, and that “there will always be ups and downs.” He said that “it is our intention to do everything possible to live up to those [human rights] standards and provide the rights of all individuals.”
Since taking power in July 2013, the Sisi government has overseen thousands of arrests of protestors, journalists and others, many of whom have been put through mass trials that fail to meet international standards. International human rights group Reprieve, which assists several prisoners in Egypt, recently established that between 2014 and the end of 2015, nearly 600 death sentences were handed down, the majority in relation to political charges.
Hundreds of other prisoners are enduring lengthy periods of pre-trial imprisonment; one trial involving 494 people has been postponed 12 times since it began in 2014. The defendants, including Ibrahim Halawa – an Irish student, who is being assisted by Reprieve – are currently understood to be undergoing torture, including forms of ‘crucifixion’ and electrocution. Mr Halawa is one of several prisoners in the trial who were arrested as juveniles, and who are being tried as adults in violation of Egypt’s Child Law.
Reprieve has previously written to Secretary Kerry, asking him to press the Egyptian government to end the use of mass trials and release prisoners who were arrested as juveniles.
Commenting, Maya Foa, head of the death penalty team at Reprieve, said: “For Egypt’s Foreign Minister to describe his government’s appalling human rights record as "not perfect" is an insult to countless victims of the government's egregious violations. This is the perfect opportunity for Mr Kerry to raise Ibrahim Halawa's case and encourage Egyptian government to begin rectifying its terrible human rights record."
Reprieve is a UK-based human rights organization that uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay.