Amnesty International has called on Egypt to release hundreds of people who were detained last month during anti-government protests.
“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,” the UK-based rights group said in a statement 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.
According to videos circulated on social media, Egyptians, including sympathizers of the now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, staged demonstrations in several villages across the country from mid-September.
The protests came amid outrage, especially in rural and low-income areas, against government campaigns to demolish illegal construction nationwide, which require people to pay fines to legalize home ownership.
The demonstrations also took place after an online call by exiled Egyptian businessman Mohamed Ali, who originally called for anti-regime protests in September last year, accusing Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of corruption.
Luther said, “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.”
“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,” he added.
Amnesty said that two men had been killed by security forces during the recent protests, calling for an investigation.
Family and medical sources told AFP on Saturday that one of the men had been killed in clashes between police and protesters in a village in Giza. Amnesty said the second man had been shot dead during a police raid on September 30.
Sisi has been facing international criticism for cracking down on civil society groups since he took power in 2014, a year after a military coup spearheaded by him toppled the country’s first ever democratically-elected president, Mohamed Morsi.
Morsi was affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood.
Since the coup, Egyptian authorities have been engaged in a crackdown on dissent, killing hundreds and arresting thousands, particularly from the Brotherhood.