Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi holds a press conference in Belgrade, Serbia, July 20, 2022.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi holds a press conference in Belgrade, Serbia, July 20, 2022. (Darko Vojinovic/AP)

Egypt's authorities refused to produce or renew documents for dozens of journalists, critics and lawyers living abroad, a leading rights group said Monday, in a clampdown on dissent that reaches overseas.

According to an investigation undertaken by U.S.-based Human Rights Watch last year, Egyptian authorities refused to provide or renew birth certificates, passports and other essential documents despite requests from some 26 Egyptians residing abroad.

The 26 dissidents, journalists and lawyers were living in Turkey, Germany, Malaysia, Qatar and two other undisclosed countries in Africa and the Gulf when the investigation took place, HRW said.

Egypt's authorities did not immediately respond to The Associated Press' request for comment.

Since coming to power in 2013, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi's government has overseen a wide-ranging crackdown on dissent, jailing thousands. Authorities have targeted not only Islamist political opponents but also pro-democracy activists, journalists and online critics. Thousands have since fled the country.

The interviewees said challenging Cairo's refusal to provide documents was ''nearly impossible,'' while some were told to return to Egypt to solve their issue, HRW said. Several interviewees said Egypt's refusal to do so was inhibiting their ability to live and travel abroad.

HRW did not reveal the identity or occupations of the 26 people it spoke to but said most of them had "no pending criminal cases against them in Egypt."

"The government is ramping up efforts to punish and silence those abroad," said Adam Coogle, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

In 2019, HRW estimated that as many as 60,000 political prisoners are incarcerated in Egyptian prisons, although Egypt's government has rejected this claim. The Committee to Protect Journalists ranks Egypt third, behind China and Turkey, in detaining journalists.

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