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40 human rights defenders missing in Egypt: HRW

The file photo shows detainees inside the soundproof glass dock of the courtroom during the trial of 700 defendants in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, September 8, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

Human Rights Watch (HRW) says at least 40 rights workers, activists and lawyers have been rounded up by Egyptian authorities since late October and are being held in "undisclosed locations."

The international rights group said in a statement on Sunday that it had spoken to "a lawyer, a human rights activist and two political activists who have been in direct contact with the families of those arrested" since the end of October.

"Many of those arrested were people who provided humanitarian and legal support to families of political detainees," the statement read.

Michael Page, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at HRW, voiced concern over the ongoing political repression across the country. "The Egyptian security agencies' repression now extends to disappearing those brave men and women who have been trying to protect the disappeared." 

Sources told HRW that as many as 80 people had been detained in the wave of arrests, but the rights group said it could only verify 40 names. The New York-based group has called on Egyptian authorities to "immediately reveal all the detainees' whereabouts, release all of those arrested solely for exercising their rights, and bring any others swiftly before a judge to review their detention."

Some of the detainees were close to the Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms, an independent human rights group which has come under fire from pro-government media in recent months.

Among those detained is Hoda Abdelmoneim, a 60-year-old lawyer and former spokesperson for Egypt's Women Revolutionary Coalition, a group close to the Muslim Brotherhood. Security forces also arrested Aisha Khairat al-Shater, the daughter of a former Brotherhood leader currently in detention, along with her husband, lawyer Mohammed Abu Horayra.

Egypt has cracked down on suspected extremists since President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi led the overthrow of the first democratically-elected president and Brotherhood leader, Mohamed Morsi.

Brotherhood is the most prominent political party in Egypt which is now outlawed.

Authorities say the state crackdown on dissent and freedom is directed at terrorists and saboteurs trying to undermine Egypt.

Death sentences have been handed down to hundreds of dissidents, including Brotherhood supporters and members. In September, 75 were sentenced to death over a 2013 sit-in which ended with security forces killing hundreds of protesters.

The crackdown on Brotherhood members and other dissidents has sparked widespread criticism around the world.

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