PM to meet Egypt’s President, amid human rights concerns

United Kingdom (Reprieve) – Prime Minister Theresa May is to meet the Egyptian President, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, at a UN summit today, amid mounting concerns over the scale of rights abuses in Egypt.

According to reports today, Mrs May is set to meet Mr Sisi “on the margins” of a meeting of the UN General Assembly. The meeting comes as concerns rise over the abuses associated with Mr Sisi’s rule. Yesterday, the UK criticised Mr Sisi’s government at the UN Human Rights Council, saying: “Reports of torture, police abuses and enforced disappearances are deeply worrying. We call on the Government to release political detainees and end the use of pre-trial detention beyond its legal limits.” However, the statement omitted any mention of the Sisi government’s use of the death penalty, which has seen nearly two thousand prisoners handed death sentences in mass trials since July 2013.

Next month will see the restarting of a mass trial of 494 people, which has been postponed repeatedly since 2013. Among the defendants is Ibrahim Halawa, an Irish student who was a juvenile when he was arrested in the wake of protests in 2013. Ibrahim has reported being tortured throughout his 3 years of detention, and said he has been forced to watch other prisoners being tortured.  He wrote recently of the mass trial process that: “It is not a trial… I can’t speak to the judge; he can’t ask me any questions. I can’t speak to my lawyer; my lawyer can’t speak to me.”

The UK government has faced criticism in the past for its close links to Mr Sisi’s government. Last year, amid widespread reports of abuses, former Prime Minister David Cameron hosted the President in London, while former Defence Secretary Michael Fallon wrote in an Egyptian state-sponsored newspaper that Britain was “offering our solidarity” and “working ever more closely” with Egypt. However, earlier this year, the Foreign Office announced that there had been “a step-change in our approach” to the Sisi government, “commensurate with our growing concern” over human rights in Egypt.united-nations-1184119_1920

Mrs May’s meeting with the Egyptian President comes a day after US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is reported to have told Mr Sisi that she wanted to see an Egypt “that upholds the rule of law, that respects human rights and liberties.”

Commenting, Harriet McCulloch – deputy director of the death penalty team at Reprieve – said:

“It’s encouraging that Foreign Office officials are raising concerns over Egypt at the UN Human Rights Council. But if the UK is serious about ending the worst abuses of Mr Sisi’s government, Theresa May must make these the focus of her meeting with the President. This has to include a condemnation of his regime’s sweeping use of the death penalty against thousands of prisoners – including Ibrahim Halawa, who was a child when he was arrested. The Prime Minister must urgently tell President Sisi to release Ibrahim, and the many others like him.”


This report prepared by Reprieve.