CAIRO — Thursday’s accusations by a global human rights organization that Egypt’s principal domestic security agency harassed and intimidated rights activists and activists in order to silence them.
The Amnesty International report was the latest rebuke to Egypt’s government, which faces increasing pressure from the U.S. to improve its human rights record.
A government media officer did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the report.
The rights group said the National Security Agency was “increasingly using a well-honed pattern of unlawful summons, (and) coercive questioning” of activists in practices amounting to “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
The London-based group said it documented how the agency, which handles terror-related and political cases, used such measures to “control the lives” of at least 26 people, including seven women, between 2020 and 2021. According to one activist, the report’s title is “This will end when you die.” It refers to her frequent summons to agency.
Amnesty did not disclose the names of those activists. Interior Ministry oversees the NSA. The Interior Ministry oversees the NSA. Egypt’s President Abdel Fatah El-Sissi maintained in the past that there are no political prisoners.
Egypt’s government has in recent years waged a wide-scale crackdown on dissent, jailing thousands of people, mainly Islamists, but also secular activists involved in the 2011 Arab Spring uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak. Many have been held on terror charges for violating a ban against protests and disseminating fake news.
In recent years, lengthy pretrial detentions have become a common practice to keep the government’s critics behind bars for as long as possible.
“NSA officials’ questions and threats reveal one clear objective: to stifle human rights and political activism,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty’s research and advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa region.
Amnesty said at least 20 activists described how the agency’s attempt to monitor and manipulate their activities had left them in a depressed and helpless state.
The group said officers used “physical and psychological abuse” during interrogations of summoned activists, many of whom had already spent significant time in detention. They were instructed to report to the police station for monitoring their movements after they had been released.
Security forces also threatened activists and their families with detention or physical harm if they did not give up information, Amnesty said. According to Amnesty, many rights activists are afraid of speaking out or participating in politics.
Some have left the country as a result, the report added. They aren’t out of reach, however. One received a message saying that he was “on the run” and would be leaving the country for good.
Amnesty urged the country’s chief prosecutor to open investigations into the NSA’s practices.
The State Department announced Tuesday it would withhold $130 million of $300 million in military financing for Egypt due to human rights concerns. Antony Blinken, Secretary of State would let the remainder go through in order to maintain a U.S.-Egypt security partnership that Washington considers essential to Mideast stability.