September 28, 2018 / 5:32 PM / 2 months ago

U.N. experts says Egypt systematically targets rights activists

GENEVA (Reuters) - Seventeen U.N. human rights experts criticized Egypt on Friday for its use of anti-terrorism laws to detain activists fighting for women’s rights and against graft, torture and extra-judicial killings.

The experts’ joint statement, unusual for attracting such a large number of signatories, named activists who had been detained for months, highlighting the case of women’s rights campaigner Amal Fathy.

Her verdict will be announced on Saturday, on charges of “incitement to overthrow the regime, terrorism, and publishing fake news in relation to her efforts to promote women’s rights”, the U.N. statement said.

“We are gravely concerned at the human rights defenders’ prolonged periods of detention, reportedly arising from their peaceful and legitimate defense of human rights,” they said.

The 17 independent experts all investigate rights for the U.N. Human Rights Council, which wrapped up a three-week session on Friday without any scrutiny of Egypt.

“The systematic targeting of human rights defenders is yet another indication that the Egyptian Government is operating a zero-tolerance approach to dissent, which is often suppressed under the pretext of countering terrorism,” they said.

Egyptian officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment on their statement.

Earlier this month Amnesty International, a human rights charity, said Egypt had become an “open-air prison” under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

Sisi’s supporters maintain the president has been trying to combat an Islamist insurgency and restore order to the country following years of chaos after Arab Spring demonstrations ousted President Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

Reporting by Tom Miles, additional reporting by Cairo bureau, Editing by William Maclean

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