Egyptian authorities have arrested at least 40 human rights advocates, lawyers and political activists within the last 30 days and held them in “undisclosed locations”, Human Rights Watch has said.
“Many of those arrested were people who provided humanitarian and legal support to families of political detainees,” HRW said, calling on the government to reveal their whereabouts.
“The Egyptian security agencies’ repression now extends to disappearing those brave men and women who have been trying to protect the disappeared,” said Michael Page, HRW deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa region.
“The government apparently wants to quash what remains of Egyptian civil society.”
The rights group spoke with a lawyer and three activists who had been “in direct touch” with the families of those arrested.
One source told HRW that as many as 80 people had been arrested, but the rights group said it could verify only 40 names.
Sources told HRW that some of the detainees were close to the Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms, an independent human rights group which, it said, has come under fire from pro-government media in recent months.
Also arrested was Hoda Abdel Moneim, a 60-year-old lawyer and former member of the official National Council for Human Rights.
One of her family members said that authorities blindfolded Moneim, put her in a police car, and drove her to an undisclosed location.
Authorities also arrested Aisha Khairat al-Shater, the daughter of a former Muslim Brotherhood leader currently in detention, along with her husband, lawyer Mohammed Abu Horayra.
HRW 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”.
Since 2013, human rights groups have issued numerous reports criticising the government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
Sisi led the 2013 military overthrow of Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Thousands of people who share the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has since been declared a “terrorist” organisation, as well as secular and left-wing activists, have been jailed by the Sisi government since 2013.
Sisi’s supporters, however, say his tough security policy is needed to ensure stability as Egypt recovers from years of political chaos and economic decline.
Sisi won a second term last March in what critics called a “sham” election. He secured more than 97 percent votes.
The presidential elections featured only one other candidate – Moussa Mustafa Moussa – an ardent Sisi supporter who had once formed a campaign group called: “Supporters of President el-Sisi’s nomination for a second term”.
All other serious opposition contenders halted their campaigns citing intimidation and arrest.