Amnesty International has urged the Egyptian authorities to release hundreds of people it said were arrested during anti-government protests last month.
“Egyptian security forces have used tear gas, batons, birdshot and on at least one occasion live ammunition, and arrested hundreds of protesters and bystanders to disperse rare scattered demonstrations over several days,” Amnesty said in a statement on Friday.
“We call on the authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all those detained solely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,” Philip Luther, Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa research and advocacy director, said in the statement.
Egyptian security forces have used teargas, batons, birdshot and on at least one occasion live ammunition, and arrested hundreds of protestors and bystanders to disperse rare scattered demonstrations over several days. https://t.co/tLPQTwRF2z
— Amnesty International (@amnesty) October 2, 2020
At least 496 individuals are currently imprisoned as a result of the crackdown, according to the London-based rights watchdog.
Egyptians took to the streets in several villages across the country from mid-September, according to videos shared widely on social media, especially by sympathisers of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.
The small-scale but rare demonstrations have come amid mounting anger, particularly in rural and low-income areas, against sweeping government campaigns to stop illegal construction, which have required people to pay fines to legalise home ownership.
Exiled businessman Mohamed Ali, who has urged protests against President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi since last year, has also intensified his calls in recent weeks in online videos, calling on Egyptians to take to the streets against the government.
“The fact that these protesters took to the streets while knowing the very high risk to their lives and safety … shows how desperate they were to demand their economic and social rights,” Luther said.
“The authorities have yet again resorted to their usual tactics of violence and mass arrests to send a clear message that no form of protest will be tolerated.”
According to Amnesty, security forces had killed two men and urged an investigation.
According to medical sources, one man had died in clashes between police and demonstrators in a village in Giza.
Amnesty said a second man was shot dead on September 30 during a police raid.
Protests effectively banned
Protests have been effectively banned in Egypt since 2013, when the country’s first democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi was removed from office in a coup orchestrated by el-Sisi.
Last week, el-Sisi warned against attempts to stoke instability in the country, and said the government was undertaking the campaign against illegal construction as part of reforms.
The same day, Egypt’s public prosecutor said it ordered the release of 68 minors who took part in “riots”.
Meanwhile, hundreds of Egyptians gathered in Cairo in a show of support for el-Sisi on Friday, holding up photos of the president and waving the Egyptian flag.
The rally was shown live on state television and pro-government broadcasters. Similar rallies were held in other parts of Egypt, pro-government media reported.
The gatherings were in response to a call by several political parties for Egyptians to show support for state institutions and celebrate the anniversary of Egypt’s 1973 war against Israel.
Egypt has been under a renewable state of emergency since 2017, a measure that rights groups say has allowed the government to crush dissent.