US warns Egypt over crackdown on rights activists

Washington (AFP) –


The United States on Wednesday warned Egypt not to target rights campaigners after a prominent activist was indicted, saying the issue would be a factor in arms sales to the ally.

Hossam Bahgat, executive director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, said this week that prosecutors indicted him and that his trial would start on September 7 on charges related to his use of social media, including a tweet that criticized election authorities.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said that the United States was "concerned" by the indictment and the continued detention of other member of civil society, academics and journalists.

"We've communicated to the Egyptian government our strong belief that individuals such as Hossam Bahgat should not be targeted for expressing their views peacefully," Price told reporters.

Asked if the issue would affect a major arms package for Egypt that is under consideration, Price declined to discuss funding but said: "Human rights across the board is something we look at very closely in making those decisions."

President Joe Biden as a candidate vowed that there would be no more "blank checks" for Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who formed a close alliance with Biden's predecessor Donald Trump.

But Secretary of State Antony Blinken in May visited and praised Sisi for helping bring a truce that halted bloodshed between Israel and Palestinian militants Hamas.

Sisi, a former army chief, took power in 2013 and has launched a sweeping crackdown on dissent, with rights groups estimating that Egypt holds about 60,000 political prisoners.