The Egyptian government has drawn the ire of the international human rights community after its controversial decision to arrest three staff members from the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR).
The campaign began with the arrest of EIPR’s Administrative Manager Mohamed Basheer on Sunday the 15th of November, a few days after which, security forces apprehended Karim Ennarah, the head of the organization’s criminal justice unit. A day later, on Thursday 19 November, authorities arrested Gasser Abdel Razek, EIPR’s executive director.
In a rebuke against the French government’s criticism of the arrests, a spokesperson for Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that the three human rights activists were being investigated for breaking Egypt’s civil society law, which critics have pointed out is false. The three men face a number of charges, including joining a terrorist organization, spreading false news and misusing social media and these accusations have been made by Egypt’s State Security Prosecution.
EIPR claims that one of the detainees, Abdel Razek, has been mistreated by authorities. According to EIPR President and Founder and renowned award-winning investigative journalist Hossam Bahgat, Abdel Razek is in solitary confinement, sleeps in a bed without a mattress, hasn’t received winter clothes and is constantly feeling cold. His concerns were echoed by Amnesty International and the International Federation for Human Rights.
Nothing and I mean nothing surprises me in #Egypt but can’t get over the fact my friend Gasser was interrogated about @eipr “false” reports on poor prison conditions WHILE THEY SUBJECTED HIM TO THE CONDITIONS THESE REPORTS DOCUMENTED!! That’s crazy even for Egypt
— hossam bahgat (@hossambahgat) November 24, 2020
Bahgat also criticized the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ response, saying it was tantamount to spreading false news, asserting that the real reason behind Ennarah’s arrest was his work in documenting prison conditions during the coronavirus pandemic, adding that State Security has accused him of working with “groups that incite sedition inside prisons in order to spread rumors and disturb the peace.” According to DW, the arrests are thought to be linked to a meeting that took place between detained EIPR staff members and foreign diplomats.
“This is the first time we are facing arrest because we have talked to foreign diplomats,” an Egyptian civil rights lawyer told the German network. “Egyptian people always talk with European delegations, the US and British embassies, on various subjects as well as human rights, but this has not happened before.”
The crackdown in Egypt – including the arrest of Karim Ennarah and @EIPR human rights advocates – is gravely concerning.
This repression is a reaction to their vital work defending basic human rights.
Lets support them internationally – Egypt must immediately #FreeKarimEnnarah
— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) November 24, 2020
#Egypt must release unharmed Human rights defenders Gasser Abdel Razek, Karim Ennarah, Mohammad Basheer from the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. https://t.co/3FZGQX2vLI
— Agnes Callamard (@AgnesCallamard) November 20, 2020
The arrests drew condemnation and criticism from human rights defenders and global leaders, including Democratic US senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, British MP and former leader of the UK’s Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn, and the UN Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions Agnès Callamard, as well as US President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee for Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
The recent wave of arrests in Egypt of courageous human rights defenders from @EIPR is an outrage. The incoming administration must make it clear to Egypt and all countries that, once again, the United States will support democracy, not dictatorship. https://t.co/VLAqsdlfv8
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) November 20, 2020
The crackdown on @EIPR and arrests of its leaders and staff by Egyptian security forces is unacceptable. They should be immediately released and allowed to continue their important work defending human rights without interference. https://t.co/AHR10w3dXf
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) November 19, 2020
Share concern re. #Egypt‘s arrests of three employees of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. Meeting with foreign diplomats is not a crime. Nor is peacefully advocating for human rights. https://t.co/hR5JtLcAYI
— Antony Blinken (@ABlinken) November 20, 2020
Critics also include the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Argentina’s Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS), the Canadian government, the Progressive International coalition, among others.
Authoritarians everywhere fear those on the frontline.
Fearless activists at @EIPR have been unlawfully detained by Egyptian security forces on baseless terrorism charges.
60000 people are political prisoners in Egypt’s jails. Free them all.https://t.co/9Fb2AIEWX2
— Progressive International (@ProgIntl) November 24, 2020
#Canada is deeply concerned by the detention of three employees of @EIPR. We urge Egyptian authorities to uphold fundamental freedoms of expression and belief as well as human rights. #HumanRights defenders must be allowed to work without fear of arrest or reprisals. #EIPR
— Foreign Policy CAN (@CanadaFP) November 20, 2020
Adding to the chorus of condemnation was SOAS University of London, where Ennarah attended graduate school, as well as Stanford University’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, which published a statement by scholars and human rights advocates from across the world demanding the release of the detained EIPR staff members.
Ennarah has also become the subject of a new campaign launched by his wife, British filmmaker Jess Kelly, demanding his immediate release. In addition to launching a petition to free Ennarah, which has amassed over 85,000 signatures, Kelly also penned a New York Times op-ed slamming Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi and his administration for the crackdown on human rights groups.
What is EIPR?
Founded in 2002, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights is a leading human rights organization working to preserve civil rights and individual liberties and freedoms in Egypt. In addition to its expert research publications and documentation of human rights abuses in Egypt, the organization also provides free legal representation for individuals whose civil rights were violated.
In recent years, the organization has won several high profile cases and represented defendants like scholar and human rights advocate Patrick Zaki and Menna Abdel Aziz, a rape victim who was charged with violating Egyptian family values and inciting debauchery.