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Egypt summons Western envoys over rights criticism

Egyptian authorities have summoned the ambassadors of several Western governments after they criticized the arrest of a rights lawyer who was investigating the suspicious death of an Italian student last year.

The German, Dutch and Italian ambassadors were summoned by the Egyptian Foreign Ministry on Sunday while envoys of Britain and Canada were the next in line, a statement from the ministry said.

The five ambassadors issued a joint statement on Friday, criticizing Cairo’s arrest of Ibrahim Metwaly, a lawyer and human rights activist who was helping investigate the 2016 murder of Giulio Regeni, an Italian Ph.D. student whose tortured body was discovered in a ditch on Cairo’s outskirts.

Metwaly’s son disappeared four years ago, when the Egyptian military led a coup against former president Mohammed Morsi and ousted him from power. The government of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the former army chief who replaced Morsi a year after his ouster, has overseen a large-scale crackdown on dissent and followers of the former president. Hundreds have been killed, tens of thousands have been jailed and many remain unaccounted for as a result of the crackdown.

To deal with those missing, Metwaly founded the Association of the Families of the Disappeared. He has collected evidence from many activists who believe Egyptian security forces abduct opponents and keep them in secret jails.

Egyptian lawyer and rights activist Ibrahim Metwaly

Security forces arrested Metwaly at airport in September when he was heading for a United Nations conference on enforced disappearances in Geneva, Switzerland. A state prosecutor then ordered Metwaly’s detention with sources saying he now faces charges of spreading false news and joining an illegal group.

The Foreign Ministry said Egypt views the late Friday statement by the Western ambassadors as a clear interference in the country’s domestic affairs.

“It is unfortunate that such a statement would be issued from countries that call for respecting rule of law and the principles of separation of powers,” said the ministry statement, calling the communiqué by the envoys “a blatant and unacceptable interference in domestic affairs and the work of the judiciary.”

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