UN Slams Egypt Killings as Grand Mufti Backs Brotherhood Crackdown

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Published Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The United Nations human rights chief voiced deep concern on Tuesday over the killing of at least 20 people in clashes between demonstrators and security forces in Egypt in recent days.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein said he was "deeply disturbed" by the deaths in clashes that have raged in Egypt since Friday.

He demanded in a statement that Cairo "take urgent measures to bring an end to the excessive use of force by security personnel."

Hussein's comments came after 20 people were killed on Sunday after oppositions called for rallies against President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's government as Egypt marked the fourth anniversary of the toppling of dictator Hosni Mubarak.

Supporters of Mubarak's successor, Islamist Mohammed Mursi, have regularly clashed with security forces since he was ousted by then army chief Sisi in July 2013.

Sunday's death toll marked the highest in a single day since Sisi came to office after May elections, which Islamist and some secular groups boycotted .

"Hundreds of people have died during protests against successive governments since January 2011, and there has been very little in the way of accountability," Hussein said.

"The lack of justice for past excesses by security forces simply encourages them to continue on the same path," he warned, pointing out that this was "leading to more deaths and injuries, as we have seen in recent days."

The statement said that the death of a leading activist, Shaimaa al-Sabagh, was caught "on video and in photographs posted on the Internet after she had apparently been shot from behind during a peaceful protest in central Cairo."

At least 97 people had also reportedly been injured in clashes in a range of cities, including Cairo, the statement said.

"I have in the past urged the Egyptian authorities to take urgent measures to ensure that any excessive use of force by security personnel is promptly investigated, alleged perpetrators are put on trial and victims have access to justice and compensation," Hussein said.

He also decried numerous arrests over the weekend.

More than 500 backers of Egypt's blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood were arrested, in the biggest police sweep targeting Mursi's supporters in a single day since Sisi came to power.

"All those who have been detained for protesting peacefully must be released," Hussein said, insisting that the long-term stability of Egypt is only possible if fundamental human rights are respected."

Also on Tuesday, Egypt's top Islamic cleric backed the widespread arrest of Muslim Brotherhood supporters.

"I am not sad for this outcome as such criminals ought to be prosecuted," Egypt's Grand Mufti Sheikh Shawky Allam told reporters in Singapore.

"I strongly condemn their actions as they are crimes that breach the laws of our country," Allam said during a four-day visit to the Southeast Asian city-state at the invitation of the local Islamic Religious Council.

"Those that have been arrested will be prosecuted legally. The reason they have been arrested is not political because they have transgressed the law," the cleric added through an interpreter.

Followers of Mursi and his Muslim Brotherhood movement have been the target of a relentless crackdown by the Egyptian authorities since he was ousted by army.

The crackdown left at least 1,400 people dead and more than 15,000 imprisoned, with hundreds sentenced to death in trials the United Nations described as "unprecedented in recent history."

In early December, an Egyptian court sentenced 188 people to death for the murder of 13 police officers – the latest in a series of mass trials launched by authorities amid a crackdown on supporters of Mursi.

Mursi and many top leaders of his now-banned Muslim Brotherhood are themselves in jail and on trial in cases in which they face the death penalty if convicted.

Besides Islamists, many of the leading secular activists behind the 2011 uprising have also found themselves on the wrong side of the new political leadership, getting locked up for taking part in peaceful demonstrations following a ban on unlicensed protests.

On Tuesday, an Egyptian court upheld three-year jail sentences for three prominent liberal activists, judicial sources said.

A court had handed down the sentences against Ahmed Maher, Ahmed Douma and Mohammed Adel — leading figures of the pro-democracy revolt — in 2013 for protesting without permission and assaulting police, under a new law suppressing demonstrations.

Critics accuse Sisi of returning Egypt to authoritarian rule. Sisi says he is committed to democracy in Egypt, a strategic US ally with influence across the Arab world.

(Reuters, AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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