White House Criticizes Egypt on Rights

White House Criticizes Egypt on Rights

The White House on Monday voiced displeasure with recent decisions in Egypt to crack down on dissenting voices within the media and to close a human rights group, saying it is “deeply concerned” about the moves.

“These latest decisions appear to contradict the Egyptian government”s stated commitment to expand democratic rights,” White House press secretary Dana Perino said.

The unusual public statement of discontent with the leadership in Egypt came as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was having dinner in New York with Egypt”s foreign minister.

There has been rising tension between Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak”s government and those who question its leadership. Authorities have imprisoned hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood members in recent months.

Earlier this month, an Egyptian court sentenced the editors of four outspoken tabloids to a year in prison for defaming Mubarak and his ruling party after they criticized senior officials in the government. One of the editors also faces charges in a separate lawsuit of spreading rumors that the 79-year-old Mubarak was in poor health.

The government has also targeted organizations unrelated to the transfer of power. Authorities closed the Association for Human Rights Legal Aid, which had been involved in the first lawsuit against a state security officer for torture. Egyptian officials said the group had received funding without the necessary permission, but fellow human rights groups said the closure was related to the torture case, which ended with the officer”s acquittal on Sept. 5.

Analysts say the government”s moves have been driven by uncertainty over who will become president after Mubarak, who has ruled Egypt for more than a quarter century but has no designated successor.

Perino said the Bush administration urges Egypt”s government to “expand protections for journalists and lift the restrictions on NGO activities, including limits on organizations” ability to accept foreign funding.”

“Journalists and NGOs in Egypt and elsewhere should be permitted to carry out their peaceful work in a hospitable environment free from fear of harassment, reprisal, intimidation and discrimination,” she said.