US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Thursday for Egypt to free political prisoners as leaders prepare to visit for the global climate summit.
Rights groups estimate that some 60,000 political prisoners are behind bars in Egypt, which starting next week will welcome more than 90 world leaders including President Joe Biden for COP27.
In a call with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, Blinken discussed climate and said that US-Egypt cooperation “is strengthened by tangible progress on human rights,” the State Department said.
Blinken “welcomed the reported releases over the preceding months of significant numbers of political detainees, and voiced support for additional such pardons and releases, as well as for steps to strengthen due process of law and protections for fundamental freedoms for all,” it said.
The statement did not list specific cases but pressure has risen for intervention to free Alaa Abdel Fattah, a prominent dissident who has started a hunger strike and whose family has warned he could die if he is not released during the climate summit.
A major figure in the 2011 revolt that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak, Abdel Fattah is serving a five-year sentence for “broadcasting false news,” having already spent much of the past decade behind bars.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said ahead of Blinken’s phone call that the United States was closely following Abdel Fattah’s plight.
“We’ve raised repeated concerns about this case and his conditions in detention with the government of Egypt,” Price told reporters Wednesday.
Biden took office vowing a firmer stance on human rights with Egypt and other Arab allies but his administration has repeatedly turned to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, a former general who toppled the elected government in 2013.
Biden is expected to meet Sisi at the climate summit in the resort of Sharm el-Sheikh and his administration last year relied on Egyptian mediation to end fighting between Israel and the Palestinian militants Hamas.
A group of US lawmakers concerned about human rights in Egypt called Thursday for Biden to redirect its $1.3 billion in annual military aid to Egypt to climate projects in the parched country.
“We are deeply committed to the fight against climate change, and believe international cooperation is central to that effort, but Egypt was the wrong choice for COP27,” said the statement led by Democratic Representatives Don Beyer and Tom Malinowski.
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