Egypt criticized for arrests of human rights advocates

The Trump administration, the Biden Campaign and the United Nations also expressed concern about the arrests.

al-monitor Police stand guard in front of the Tora prison clinic in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, during a guided tour organised by Egypt's State Information Service on Feb. 11, 2020. Many political prisoners are held at the prison. Photo by KHALED DESOUKI/AFP via Getty Images).

Nov 20, 2020

The governments of several nations whose delegates met with members of an Egyptian human rights organization in Cairo earlier this month have spoken out against the Sisi government’s arrest of three lead members of the group in response to the meeting.

The governments of Canada, Germany, Ireland, France, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands have spoken out against the arrest of top leaders of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, a Cairo-based think tank that advocates for civil liberties and economic and social justice.

Egyptian security forces detained executive director Jasser Abdel Razek, criminal justice initiative director Karim Ennarah and administrative director Mohammed Bashir earlier this week on allegations that include joining a terrorist organization and spreading false news.

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab spoke with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry about the arrests.

The United States and United Nations have also expressed concern about the arrests. “We are very concerned by the detention of a third employee of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, and of Coptic activist Ramy Kamel,” said Cale Brown, the US State Department’s deputy spokesperson.

“We urge the government of Egypt to release those detained and to respect the fundamental freedoms of expression and association,” Brown said in a statement Friday.

A spokesperson for UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet’s office said the UN is “very concerned” about the Egyptian government's continued targeting of human rights advocates, which she said has a “profound chilling effect on an already weakened Egyptian civil society.”

A spokesperson for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres came out in support of the statement from Bachelet’s office.

On Nov. 3, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights hosted more than a dozen European diplomats and ambassadors in Cairo to discuss human rights issues in Egypt. Bashir’s lawyers said Egyptian security forces questioned him specifically on the meeting.

The detentions also drew rebuke from President-elect Joe Biden’s top foreign policy adviser, Antony Blinken, as well as US Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Chris Coons, D-Delaware, Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, and others.

“Meeting with foreign diplomats is not a crime. Nor is peacefully advocating for human rights,” Blinken wrote on Twitter.

The arrests came after more than 50 members of the US Congress and more than 200 EU lawmakers penned letters to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi last month urging him to release imprisoned activists, journalists and lawyers.

The Egyptian regime has arrested tens of thousands of people since Sisi came to power after leading a coup against President Mohammed Morsi in 2013, rights organizations say. Sisi's regime has become known for forcible disappearances and intimidating citizens who are publicly critical of the government.

Another Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights researcher, Patrick George Zaki, remains in detention since his arrest in February.

The group's founder, Hossam Baghat, now a journalist with Mada Masr, said on Twitter on Friday that he would return to the organization “till the release of its leaders.”

Outgoing US President Donald Trump has been a vocal supporter of Sisi, whose regime hired a Washington firm that includes bipartisan insiders to lobby the incoming Biden administration following the president-elect’s victory speech earlier this month.  

Sisi and Shoukry have denied that any prisoners in Egypt are being held for political reasons.