Egyptian authorities have launched the “biggest crackdown” under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s rule, according to Amnesty International, rounding up more than 2,300 people following a series of anti-government protests in late September.
Those arrested include 111 minors, aged between 11 and 17 years, the rights group said in a statement on Wednesday.
At least 69 detainees face charges including “membership in a terrorist group”.
In addition to sweeping arrests of peaceful protesters, Egyptian authorities also carried out targeted arrests of journalists, activists and politicians, Amnesty said. Several lawyers representing detainees have also been arrested while carrying out their work.
“President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s government has orchestrated this crackdown to crush the slightest sign of dissent and silence every government critic,” said Najia Bounaim, Amnesty’s North Africa campaign director.
“The wave of unprecedented mass arrests, which included many who were not even involved in the protests, sends a clear message – anyone perceived to pose a threat to Sisi’s government will be crushed.”
The public prosecutor, in a statement last month, said less than 1,000 people have been interrogated in relation to the protests.
The rare show of dissent erupted last month in response to a call from businessman Mohamed Ali, a building contractor who says his company used to carry out projects for the Egyptian military. Ali currently lives in Spain in what he describes as a self-imposed exile. In a series of widely watched videos posted on Facebook and Twitter, he has accused el-Sisi and his aides of squandering millions of dollars on vanity projects despite rising poverty.
El-Sisi denied the allegations as “slander”, saying he “was honest and faithful” to Egypt and the military. He also downplayed the protests calling them “no reason for concern”.
Since then, security has tightened in major cities and across the country.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, also expressed serious concern last week.
“I remind the Egyptian government that under international law people have a right to protest peacefully,” Bachelet said, adding they had a right to express opinions on social media.
“They should never be detained, let alone charged with serious offences, simply for exercising those rights,” she added.
El-Sisi took power following a military coup that toppled democratically-elected President Mohamed Morsi in 2013 after weeks of protests. He was elected the following year with 97 percent of the vote and re-elected in a 2018 vote in which the only other candidate was an el-Sisi supporter.
Analysts say the 64-year-old leader’s popularity has gone down in recent years because of austerity measures and soaring poverty rates.
Official statistics released in July show that 33 percent of Egyptians were living in poverty, up from 28 percent in 2015 and 17 percent in 2000. Other estimates put the figure higher.