More than 50 US Congressmen have urged Egyptian President Abdel Fattah A-Sisi to release activists, journalists, lawyers, and prisoners of conscience warning that they risk death in custody due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The warning comes two weeks before US elections in which President Donald Trump, who has formed a close alliance with Al-Sisi, is trailing in polls to Democrat Joe Biden.
In a letter released on Monday, 56 Congressional Democrats (and one independent) urged Al-Sisi, a US client, to release those "unjustly detained for exercising their fundamental human rights". The letter is spearheaded by three Democratic lawmakers: Ro Khanna, Jim McGovern, and Sherrod Brown.
Field Marshal el-Sisi, a US client, is the second-largest recipient of US foreign military financing and US lawmakers have a special responsibility to press his government to free political prisoners and end its systematic human-rights violations.
McGovern said, "The unjust detention of Egyptian human-rights defenders, peaceful political activists and other prisoners of conscience is in direct opposition to the rights and freedoms enshrined in Egyptian and American law."
The congressmen are concerned that continued unjust imprisonment during large outbreaks of COVID-19 in Egyptian prisons might lead to their death.
"We are deeply disturbed that in the middle of a pandemic, the Egyptian government continues to wrongfully hold these political prisoners in overcrowded prisons - places where we know COVID-19 can spread like wildfire and cause severe illness and death," McGovern warned.
"Even in the middle of a global pandemic, President Sisi continues to lock up prisoners in notoriously overcrowded, dangerous prisons," Khanna said.
The letter specified the names of political activists Ramy Shaath, Zyad el-Elaimy, and Alaa Abdel Fattah; human rights lawyers Mohamed el Baqer and Mahienour el-Massry; journalists Esraa Abdel Fattah and Solafa Magdy, and other unjustly detained prisoners of conscience and demanded their release.
At least two prisoners have died in custody this year including Mustafa Kassem, a US citizen who was rounded up in a sweeping 2013 crackdown and had gone on a hunger strike.
El-Sisi, now the Egyptian president and assumed the title of Field Marshal, ousted his democratically elected predecessor, Brotherhood member Mohamed Morsi, in July 2013. Since then, Al-Sisi has led a crackdown on Brotherhood leaders and supporters, as well as secular opposition groups who criticize his rule.
Former President Mohamed Mursi died after collapsing in a prison courtroom in June 2019. The United Nations Human Rights Office in June 2019 called for an independent investigation into the death of Morsi.
The UN spokesman Rupert Colville cited concerns about Morsi's detention for several years, and said the investigation should examine whether those conditions factored in his death.
"As former President Mohamed Morsi was in the custody of the Egyptian authorities at the time of his death, the state is responsible for ensuring he was treated humanely and that his right to life and health were respected," Colville said in a statement.
Egypt has jailed thousands of members and supporters of the group since the army's overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi in 2013.
Human Rights Watch has estimated that over 60,000 political prisoners are languishing in jails since Al-Sisi became president in 2014, while many others have been living in self-imposed exile fearing reprisals at home.
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