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Amnesty warns of Egypt's 'parallel justice system'

Amnesty warns of Egypt's 'parallel justice system'

PARIS (AFP) - Amnesty International warned Wednesday that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi s government had built a "parallel justice system" to crack down on critics and dissent.

The London-based rights watchdog said the key tools of repression were the Supreme State Security Prosecution service, known as the SSSP, as well as counter-terrorism courts and special police forces.

"In Sisi s Egypt, all critics of the government are seen as potential terrorists," Amnesty s France director Katia Roux said at the launch of the 60-page report in Paris.

In its report entitled "Permanent State of Exception", Amnesty said it had observed a sharp rise in cases prosecuted by the SSSP -- from 529 in 2013 to 1,739 cases last year.

The prosecution -- which deals with activities deemed threats to state security -- regularly probes political dissidents and Islamist figures including from the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group.

Philip Luther, Amnesty s Middle East an North Africa Research and Advocacy Director, warned that the SSSP had flagrantly abused its power.

It has "become a central tool of repression whose primary goal appears to be arbitrarily detaining and intimidating critics, all in the name of counter-terrorism," he said.

The SSSP, along with the Egyptian National Security Agency (NSA), a special police force, and counter-terrorism courts "have emerged as a parallel justice system for detaining, interrogating and trying peaceful dissidents," he said.

The report noted that many detainees are forced to languish in prison for lengthy stretches of "pre-trial detention", without any hope of a legal reprieve or of a case being opened.

"Many are detained for months and years without evidence, based on secret police investigations and without recourse to an effective remedy," it added.

Amnesty said it based its findings on more than 100 interviews with former detainees and their lawyers.

It said many were held for involvement in political or human rights activities, for protesting or for sharing critical social media content.

This week plainclothes police raided, detained then released three editors at the local online news outlet Mada Masr after arresting another editor the day before.

The state security prosecution issued an order to search the news site s premises, the public prosecutor said in a Monday statement.

Also this week, a Coptic Christian rights activist was detained and ordered to be held for 15 days.

He faces charges of joining a "terror" group and spreading misinformation, his lawyer confirmed to AFP.

To remedy the mounting violations, Amnesty called on the authorities "to afford fair trial guarantees" to those arrested.

Rights groups regularly accuse Egyptian authorities of curtailing freedoms and muzzling any form of dissent including from Islamist and secular opposition.

Under Sisi, protests have effectively been outlawed in Egypt, and authorities last year also adopted a law to clamp down on social media.

A renewable state of emergency remains in force.

Authorities arrested some 4,000 people in the wake of small-scale protests in September that made rare calls for Sisi s removal.

"The situation is getting worse," Roux said. "Repression is hardening."