October 29, 2019 / 9:05 PM / 21 days ago

U.S. senior diplomat slams Egypt's treatment of journalist

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. State Department’s top diplomat for the Middle East on Tuesday called Egypt’s treatment of a prominent journalist and activist “outrageous,” saying he had raised the issue with Egyptian ambassador.

Journalist and activist Esraa Abdelfattah was arrested by plainclothes security officers in Cairo on Oct. 12 and was reportedly beaten after she refused to unlock her mobile phone, according to the U.N. human rights office.

David Schenker, assistant secretary for the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, told a congressional hearing:

“I met her several times, I think it is outrageous. Know that I’ve had the Egyptian ambassador in my office last week to talk about Esraa,” he said and added: “Egypt has a long way to go on human rights.”

Protests against President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo and other cities have followed online calls for demonstrations against alleged government corruption.

Sisi, who came to power after, while army chief, leading the 2013 overthrow of Islamist President Mohamed Mursi, has overseen a broad crackdown on dissent that has extended to liberal and Islamist groups, and which rights groups say is the most severe in recent memory.

During an April visit to Washington by Sisi, U.S. President Donald Trump praised his Egyptian counterpart as a “great president,” while a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers raised concerns about his record on human rights and freedoms.

Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous nation, is of strategic importance to the United States because of its peace treaty with Israel and control of the Suez Canal, a vital waterway for global commerce as well as the U.S. military.

Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Alistair Bell

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