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U.N. rights office urges Egypt to free lawyers, activist

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GENEVA (Reuters) – The U.N. human rights office called on Egypt on Friday to free two prominent lawyers and a journalist allegedly mistreated in custody who are among nearly 2,000 people detained since street protests began a month ago.

Officials at the interior ministry were not immediately available for comment. The state prosecutor’s office said in late September that it had questioned a number not exceeding 1,000 suspects who took part in the demonstrations.

“Unfortunately such arrests are continuing, and have included a number of well-known and respected civil society figures,” U.N. human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani told a news briefing in Geneva.

Protests against President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo and other cities have followed online calls for demonstrations against alleged government corruption.

Sisi, who came to power after, while army chief, leading the 2013 overthrow of Islamist President Mohamed Mursi, has overseen a broad crackdown on dissent that has extended to liberal and Islamist groups, and which rights groups say is the most severe in recent memory.

Journalist and activist Esraa Abdelfattah was arrested by plainclothes security officers in Cairo on Oct. 12 and was reportedly beaten after she refused to unlock her mobile phone, Shamdasani said. Abdelfattah is on a hunger strike, she added.

Alaa Abdel Fattah, a blogger and software engineer, was released in March after serving a five-year sentence for protesting without permission, but was re-arrested on Sept 29, Shamdasani said. The same day, his lawyer Mohamed al-Baqer, was arrested while attending the interrogation, she added.

Abdel Fattah was struck by guards on his back and neck while being forced to walk down a corridor in his underwear, while al-Baqer has been subjected to physical and verbal abuse, and denied water and medical aid, she said.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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