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Sisi claims Egypt has 'no political prisoners', in interview that Cairo regime 'tried to block'

Egypt's government pressed CBS to not screen the interview [Getty]

Date of publication: 4 January, 2019

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Egypt President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi made a series of wild claims during a controversial interview with broadcaster CBS, which the Cairo regime reportedly tried to block.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has claimed in an interview the government tried to block that there "are no political prisoners" in Egypt, despite reports from human rights groups stating that tens of thousands prisoners of conscious remain behind bars.

Human Rights Watch estimates that around 60,000 political prisoners are being held in Egypt, where routine torture and extreme deprivation are commonly reported.

When questioned on this by CBS News' "60 Minutes", Sisi rejected the reports of the mass incarceration of the president's critics.

"We don't have political prisoners, or prisoners of opinion," he stated, which CBS has described as "The Interview Egypt's Government Doesn't Want on TV".

"We are trying to stand against extremists who want to impose their ideology on the people. Now they are subject to a fair trial, they take years, but we have to follow the law."

Egypt has seen mass trials of suspected opponents of Sisi's regime, which overthrew Egypt's first democratically-elected government in a bloody military coup in 2013.

Since then, tens of thousands of Islamist, Leftist and non-political activists have been detained without trail, living in harrowing conditions where torture is said to be common. Among the most notorious detention centre is Egypt's "Scorpion Prison".

American Mohamed Soltan was held in an Egyptian prison for two years, after documenting the events unfolding during the 2013 Rabaa Massacre.

He said he was subject to methods of torture such as sleep deprivation, isolation and strobe lighting during his two-year detention, until the Barack Obama administration secured his release.

"Guards that were assigned to me…would pass razors under the doorstep and the officer doctors would say to me, 'Cut vertically, not horizontally so you can end it faster.'"

On the Rabaa Massacre, when around 1,000 activists were killed by security forces, Sisi stuck to the regime line that a shoot-out between the protesters and police led to the deaths - something that contradicts statements of many witnesses.

"There were thousands of armed people in the sit-in for more than 40 days. We tried every peaceful means to disburse them," he said, claiming more than a dozen guns were found at the protest camp.

Sisi also appeared to confirm that Egypt has been cooperating with the Israeli military in Cairo's campaign against Islamic State group-affiliated militants in the troubled Sinai region.

"That is correct… We have a wide range of cooperation with the Israelis," he said when questioned on Israeli-Egyptian military cooperation against "joint enemies".

Although the two countries are at peace, military cooperation would be highly controversial in Egypt, where anger over Israeli occupation of Palestinian land runs high and memories of past conflicts with Israel run deep.
 
CBS said that the information given by Sisi in the interview was "not the kind of news his government wanted broadcast".

"The 60 Minutes team was contacted by the Egyptian ambassador shortly after and told the interview could not be aired."

It added that the interview will be aired on "60 Minutes" on Sunday at 7pm Eastern Time. 

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