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UN rights chief decries repression in Egypt ahead of election

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Pedestrians cross a main square in downtown Cairo decorated with presidential election campaign posters and billboards showing support to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, March 7, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

The United Nations human rights chief has denounced a "pervasive climate of intimidation" in Egypt ahead of presidential election in late March.

The presidential election is set to be held on March 26-28 in Egypt and on March 16-18 abroad. The incumbent President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is expected to win easily after his real challengers were detained, prosecuted or intimidated out of the race.

The UN human rights chief said on Wednesday that the vote has been marked by arrests, torture of detainees and "silencing" of independent media.

"Potential candidates have allegedly been pressured to withdraw, some through arrests. Legislation prevents candidates and supporters from organizing rallies. Independent media have been silenced, with over 400 media and NGO websites completely blocked," Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein said in an annual report submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Egypt’s chief prosecutor on February 28 called for strict monitoring of the media and taking legal action against any outlet whose behavior disrupts security or hurts national interests as the country approaches the vote and amid an ongoing military operation against militants in the Sinai Peninsula.

A handout picture released by the Egyptian Presidency on February 25, 2018, shows Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (C) dressed in military uniform during his visit to the headquarters of the eastern forces of the Suez Canal at an unknown location in the Sinai. (Photo by AFP)

Sisi, who has been in power since he led the 2013 military overthrow of his predecessor, Egypt’s first democratically-elected president Mohamed Morsi, is one of the two candidates.

The other candidate is Moussa Mostafa Moussa, leader of the pro-government centrist Ghad (Tomorrow) Party that had collected signatures of support for Sisi’s presidential campaign.

Sisi's critics say he has silenced all forms of political opposition during his first four-year term. His administration has been under fire for widespread arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, torture against perceived dissidents, and trial of thousands of civilians in military courts since the 2013 coup.

Several human rights groups have denounced the election as “farcical” and opposition leaders have called for a boycott.

A coalition of opposition figures said in a joint statement that Egyptians should stay away from the polls in protest as the government had prevented “any fair competition in the upcoming elections”.

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