In the last month, three human rights activists have been arrested in Egypt over charges of being part of a terrorist organization and spreading fake news. However, on 3 December, they were released from prison after weeks of campaigning by the international community for their freedom.
Executive director Gasser Abdel-Razek, senior researcher Karim Ennarah and office manager Mohamed Basheer of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) attended a meeting with foreign ambassadors to discuss human rights in Egypt on 3 November. Within a week after this gathering, all three were arrested and placed in pre-trial detention, which can last up to two years under Egyptian law, but is often even prolonged.
Force behind the release
Amnesty International called the arrests “outrageous” and a “chilling escalation of the Egyptian authorities’ crackdown on civil society”. In addition, other human rights agencies, policymakers from the West, diplomats and even movie actors expressed their solidarity towards the detained activists, reflecting the concern in many layers of society. However, it has most likely been the future United States Secretary of State under President-elect Joe Biden, Antony Blinken, who was the most powerful force behind the release of the EIPR members. Blinken tweeted after the arrest “Meeting with foreign diplomats is not a crime. Nor is peacefully advocating for human rights”. He also indicated that the new administration would be firmer with Egypt, when it comes to human rights, than the current administration under President Donald Trump is.
Fourth EIPR member tortured
Earlier, in February of this year, another EIPR member, Patrick Zaky, had been arrested, while on a break in Cairo from his studies in Italy. His charges are similar to those of the other three members. Zaky’s lawyer stated that his client has been tortured by being beaten and subjected to electric shocks. Zaky remains in prison and it is not clear whether he will be released as well.
The EIPR is the last prominent independent human rights organization still active in Egypt. For over 18 years, the group has been committed to documenting civil rights violations, discrimination against minorities, sectarian violence and prison conditions. Over the years, in a climate extremely hostile against groups openly opposing the government’s human rights violations, others have ceased.