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Egypt accused of widespread state-sanctioned killings of dissidents | Global development

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Egyptian security forces engaged in an extended campaign of extrajudicial killings of detainees, routinely masked as shootouts with alleged terrorists, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch.

The report details what it alleges are a pattern of extrajudicial assassinations between 2015 and last year, a period in which the Egyptian interior ministry said publicly that 755 people were killed in alleged exchanges of fire with security forces, while naming just 141.

The ministry’s statements were sometimes accompanied by photos showing bodies in remote desert locations lying next to firearms that the Egyptian authorities claimed were used in the attack. However, Human Rights Watch (HRW) says that the government rarely provided substantive information about the alleged shootouts.

For its new report, the rights organisation analysed nine of the incidents the Egyptian government claimed were shootouts, in which 75 alleged militants were killed. It interviewed relatives of 14 of the named individuals killed and conducted forensic analysis of pictures and video of the killings made available by the authorities.

In all 14 cases, family members of the deceased claimed that their relative was in police custody before the alleged shootout took place. Most told HRW that they had witnessed the arrest, and said they had extreme difficulty obtaining information about the death or the body.

The rights group said that the cases its researchers analysed led them to conclude that the individuals killed “at the moment of their deaths apparently posed no life-threatening danger to security forces or others, and so amounted to deliberate and unlawful killings”.

“All evidence indicates that these were probable extrajudicial executions that represent a broader pattern,” HRW claims in its report.

The head of Egypt’s state information service did not respond when contacted to comment on the allegations.

Since coming to power in a military coup in 2013, the Egyptian president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, has overseen what HRW describes as “one of the worst prolonged human rights crises in the country’s recent history”, targeting all forms of political opposition, journalists and even benign dissent from citizens posting critical comments on social media. This includes the routine use of terrorism charges, where even peaceful opponents risk being accused of sponsoring or supporting terrorism.

“Under the pretext of combating terrorism, President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi’s government has effectively given the interior ministry’s police and national security agency free rein to suppress all opposition, including peaceful dissent, with near-absolute impunity for grave abuses,” said the rights group.

The targets of extrajudicial assassination are normally accused of membership of the banned group Muslim Brotherhood or Hasm, an armed group reportedly responsible for a string of attacks across Egypt since 2016. The extrajudicial killings followed the introduction of a controversial 2015 anti-terrorism law, which removed any need for accountability over security agencies’ use of deadly force.

“This is a reflection of the fact that these agencies feel they are immune from any scrutiny or punishment,” said Amr Magdi of HRW. “Under Sisi, the security agencies have been green-lit to operate as they wish.”

The rights organisation says that the level of documented abuses uncovered shows that Egypt’s international partners “should halt all security and military assistance and weapons transfers to the Egyptian government and condition their resumption on an end to grave human rights abuses and transparent investigations of serious crimes”, as well as imposing sanctions on those responsible.

The Egyptian government is routinely one of the world’s largest arms importers, receiving weapons from around the world, including more than £24m in openly licensed sales from the UK in the past three years.

Egypt continues to receive $1.3bn (£950m) annually in military aid from the US, despite mounting pressure on Joe Biden to stick to his campaign promises of “no more blank checks” to the country. In February, the Biden administration approved a $200m arms sale to Egypt.

“The US relationship with Egypt is an anomaly,” said Michele Dunne, of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Congress is expected to state imminently whether it will override restrictions imposed on up to $300m of the $1.3bn arms deal because of human rights concerns.

“By withholding that $300m, the US would be putting a question mark on the degree of US support for military rule in Egypt, and saying we have some concerns about the brutal, abusive nature of that military rule,” said Dunne.

“There’s no one who can say credibly that withholding $300m in security assistance would cause a real and tangible security problem.”



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EU agrees to sanction Russian mercenaries

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EU diplomats have provisionally agreed to blacklist three Russian nationals and one entity, the ‘Wagner Group’ mercenary outfit, on grounds of human rights abuses in Africa and the Middle East, diplomatic sources said. The decision will be formalised by foreign ministers next Monday. The move comes amid Wagner’s increasing presence in Mali, threatening French interests in the region. Europe earlier sanctioned a Russian oligarch, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said to fund Wagner.

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I feel despair at Sudan’s coup. But my children’s mini protest gives me hope | Khalid Albaih

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“All the goodness and the heroisms will rise up again, then be cut down again and rise up,” John Steinbeck wrote to a friend in 1941, just before the US entered the second world war. “It isn’t that the evil thing wins – it never will – but that it doesn’t die.”

Growing up, I was always interested in politics, politics was the reason I had to leave Sudan at the age of 11. At school, we weren’t allowed to study or discuss it, and it was the same at home.For years, I lay in bed and listened to my father and his friends as they argued about politics and sang traditional songs during their weekend whisky rituals. They watched a new Arabic news channel, Al Jazeera, which aired from Qatar. All the journalism my father consumed about Sudan was from the London-based weekly opposition newspaper, Al Khartoum. The only time he turned on our dial-up internet was to visit Sudanese Online.

At the time, I never understood how Sudanese activists and political figures, like my diplomat father, who cared deeply about the country and had fought for their principles for so long, suddenly submissively stepped back. Or worse, why they sheltered their children from the issues. I always wondered, “So who are you fighting for then?”

In my adult life, opposing former president Omar al-Bashir’s authoritarianism and corruption became a personal battle for me, more so with every year I spent outside Sudan. It took shape slowly, until a few years before the Arab spring it peaked with the publication of my political cartoons on social media. I blogged, tweeted and posted, knowing that, although working in exile gave me a level of freedom unavailable to dissidents at home, I also risked everything through being unflinching in my criticism.

This last decade since the Arab spring has been a political rollercoaster. It was an honour to see my work shared by protesters all over the world – and be recognised by the BBC and the New York Times. I’ve published two books and had exhibitions around the world, been detained in two different countries, and wanted in my own. Like many fellow activists, I’ve experienced the effects of despair and burnout.

Deep into the long winter that has followed the quashed Arab spring, and just as I was ready to give in to my despair, a second wave ofrebellion has hit Sudan. Bashir’s bloody 30-year rule ended, finally, in a revolution led by women, artists and unions. This uprising on the streets of Sudan was matched with huge support from members of the diaspora, exiled by Bashir’s regime. Returning in the wake of the uprising was an extraordinary experience. For the first time in a decade, I entered Sudan without expecting arrest. I tried to explain to my children how the people had won and collectively overcome this evil man who ruled Sudan; that although he dressed like a policeman, he was a criminal.

In the past rocky two years , Sudan has seen an influx of families who left three decades ago – people trying to regain what was lost. But it seems the counter-revolutionaries remain strong – determined to prevent democracy. Even with international support limited to Egypt, Saudi and the UAE, the October coup against the transitional government has been a huge defeat for those working towards a free Sudan.

At 41, I hoped my children could experience Sudan as home. But it’s hard to keep hoping it will be safe in Sudan to continue my activism and work as a political cartoonist anytime soon.

Now, I understand how my father and his friends felt. In a country that has had six coups since independence in 1956, I can understand the instinct to protect children from instability, uncertainty and tragedy. I spend most nights on WhatsApp sending frustrated voice messages about the situation. All my friends and I talk about is news about Sudan. I find myself trying to shield my children from the (mostly bad) news.

How do I explain that our army is killing young men and women? How do I explain that bad men in police uniforms are back again? That evil has returned so fast?

In the end I did not need to. My eldest daughter used her screen time to read posts and watch videos about Sudan. Early one Friday morning I awoke to a mini anti-coup protest with her and her younger siblings waving flags and shouting slogans in our living room.

With guidance and citizen journalism, these younger generations are far more action-oriented than we used to be. What we achieved in a decade will take them less time. As authoritarianism evolves, humans discover new ways to gain their freedoms. If my young children can stage a protest in their living room, despite my best efforts to shelter them from the news, imagine what’s going on inside Sudan right now.

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Putin-Biden talks set for Tuesday amid Ukraine tension

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Russian president Vladimir Putin and his US counterpart Joe Biden are scheduled to hold talks by video conference on Tuesday, the Kremlin said, AFP reports. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the conversation will take place in the evening Russia-time and the two leaders will determine the duration. Biden said Friday he would make it “very, very difficult” for Russia to launch any invasion of Ukraine.

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