Egypt’s senate and parliament have rejected accusations of human rights violations levelled this week by dozens of countries at the United Nations Human Rights Council.
In a rare oral rebuke of Egypt at the council, 31 countries issued a joint statement Friday voicing alarm at restrictions on free expression and assembly suffered by political opponents, rights defenders and journalists in the North African country.
They expressed particular concern at “the application of terrorism legislation against peaceful critics”.
“We are deeply concerned about the application of terrorism legislation against human rights activists, LGBTI persons, journalists, politicians and lawyers,” said Kirsti Kauppi, Finland’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, reading the joint statement.
Egypt’s senate said Saturday that “no lawyer, journalist or human rights lawyer or human rights activist is in custody unless he has committed a crime justifying the actions taken against him — whether through a fair trial or fair investigations conducted by a judiciary fully independent from the executive branch”.
“The Egyptian state has only used anti-terrorism laws against those who have already committed terrorist crimes,” it said in a statement, criticizing the joint declaration for treating the issues raised “superficially”.
Egypt’s parliament, meanwhile, urged the 31 countries “not to install themselves as guardians of Egypt” and to refrain from “politicizing human rights issues for political or electoral purposes”.
Using arguments often made by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, lawmakers said the council “should have taken an objective view of Egypt’s efforts to maintain security and stability not only internally but also regionally”.
Sisi rose to power following the military overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013 and has overseen a wide-ranging, ongoing crackdown aimed at quashing dissent.
Human rights groups estimate around 60,000 political prisoners are being held in Egyptian jails.
Rights organizations welcomed Friday’s statement — the first joint intervention before the rights council targeting Egypt since 2014 — but said it was long overdue.
Kevin Whelan, Amnesty International’s representative to the UN in Geneva, said the statement should send “a clear message to the Egyptian authorities that the world will no longer turn a blind eye to their relentless campaign to crush peaceful dissent”.
Egypt’s foreign ministry on Friday said the joint statement contained “inaccurate information”.