Muslim Brotherhood supporters
Muslim Brotherhood supportersReuters

U.S. President Barack Obama spoke to his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Thursday and expressed concern over mass trials and the continued detention of journalists and peaceful activists, AFP reports.

During a telephone call, the White House said, Obama encouraged Sisi to "invest in the political, economic, and social aspirations of the Egyptian people."

"President Obama also expressed concern about mass trials, the status of NGOs, and the continued imprisonment of journalists and peaceful activists in Egypt," the statement said.

Islamists have been the subject of an ongoing crackdown which began in the summer of 2013 when the army ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.

In early December, an Egyptian court sentenced 188 people to death for the murder of 13 police officers, the latest in a series of mass trials launched by authorities against Islamists.

A week later, a Cairo court referred four Muslim Brotherhood leaders, who are on trial for the killing of nine and injuring more than 90 in 2013, to Egypt's grand mufti to consider the death penalty.

The defendants in the case include 17 Brotherhood leaders, among which are former Parliament Speaker Saad El-Katatni, Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohammed Badie, and his deputy Khairat El-Shater.

More than 500 people were sentenced to death in March for a separate attack on a police station in Minya on the same day.

In April, another 683 supporters of Morsi, including leading members of his Muslim Brotherhood, were sentenced to death as well.

The rise of mass convictions in Egypt has been described by the United Nations as "unprecedented".

Egypt has also cracked down on the press, sentencing several journalists including three from international news network Al-Jazeera to lengthy prison terms.

In June, Australian Peter Greste, Egyptian-Canadian Mohammed Fadel Fahmy and Egyptian Mohammed Baher were convicted of supporting the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood.

Washington regularly expresses dissatisfaction over the country's poor human rights record, but also relies on its military alliance with Egypt as a centerpiece of American diplomacy in the Arab world.

During Thursday's telephone call, Obama emphasized the importance of cooperation between Washington and Cairo "to promote shared interests in counterterrorism and regional security."

"The president affirmed the United States’ continuing commitment to the strategic partnership with Egypt and emphasized the importance of bilateral cooperation," Obama said, according to AFP.

The United States announced last year it would cut hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Egypt over its displeasure with the military's pace of restoring democracy following Morsi’s ouster.

American law forbids sending aid to countries where a democratic government was deposed by a military coup, though Washington has never qualified Morsi’s ouster as a "coup" and has been cautious about doing so, choosing only to condemn the violence in the country.