Canada must speak out after arrests of human rights defenders in Egypt

BREAKING NEWS: On the evening of December 3, EIPR staff Mohamed Basheer, Karim Ennarah and Gasser Abdel-Razek were released from prison. We are awaiting further details and will update this page and actions on December 7.

On November 3, 2020, members of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR)—one of a handful of independent human rights organizations continuing to operate in Egypt—hosted a meeting at their office with 13 Western diplomats, including representatives from Canada. Such meetings aren’t uncommon as human rights defenders around the world seek support and protection for their vital work.  

One month later, however, the EIPR is struggling to continue operations in the face of arrests, office eviction, and an asset freeze.  

Between November 15 and 19, Egyptian security forces arrested three senior staff of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR): Mohamed Basheer, Karim Ennarah and Gasser Abdel-Razek. The arrests were apparently in direct retaliation for the EIPR meeting with foreign diplomats. Amnesty International considers them to be prisoners of conscience, detained solely in relation to their organization’s peaceful human rights work.  

All three have been added to Case No. 855/2020 which includes several other human rights defenders, many of whom have been detained without trial for over a year.  Prosecutors detained both Gasser Abdelrazek and Karim Ennarah pending investigation on charges of and “joining a terrorist group”, in addition to “spreading false news” and “misusing social media.” Mohamed Basheer was questioned about “committing a crime of funding terrorism” in addition to all other three charges. 

Gasser Abdelrazek is being held in solitary confinement, denied any time outside his cell, and does not have a mattress to sleep on. His family has only briefly been able to visit him. The families of Karim Ennarah and Mohamed Bashir have not yet been granted permission to visit.

These latest detentions mark another escalation in the Egyptian authorities’ campaign to eradicate the human rights movement in Egypt, ranging from asset freezes and travel bans to enforced disappearances and torture, and prolonged arbitrary detention in abysmal conditions amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The Egyptian authorities regularly use unfounded “terrorism” related charges to imprison human rights defenders and to subject them to punitive measures without trial. 

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights says these latest arrests are part of  “a broader pattern of intimidating organizations defending human rights and of the use of counter-terrorism and national security legislation to silence dissent,” leading to “a profound chilling effect on an already weakened Egyptian civil society.” 

Canada sought the expertise of EIPR staff. Three EIPR staff have now been jailed as a direct result of meeting with diplomats from Canada and other countries. Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs François-Philippe Champagne has said that “promoting and protecting these essential liberties and rights is, and will remain, a priority for the Government of Canada.” Canada must implement its Voices at Risk guidelines on supporting human rights defenders and take urgent action to free the EIPR staff.

The international community must show to Egypt that they utterly reject the equation of defending human rights with terrorism and continue to demand the immediate and unconditional release of all detained human rights defenders in Egypt. 

Who is the EIPR? 

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) was founded in 2002.  The organization uses research, documentation, legal aid, strategic litigation and advocacy in its work on civil liberties, economic and social rights and criminal justice. Its work includes reporting on the rights of religious minorities in Egypt, documenting sectarian violence, representing members of the LGBT+ community facing prosecution and advocating on mental health law. EIPR is one of the few human rights organizations working on environmental justice in Egypt. 

What You Can Do

  1. Add your name to the online petition calling for the release of  Mohamed Basheer, Karim Ennarah, and Gasser Abdel-Razek 
  2. Write a personal letter to Public Prosecutor Hamada al-Sawi asking him to end criminal investigations against human rights NGOs, including by closing “Case 173” which has targeted EIPR for years.   
  3. Tweet at Egyptian and Canadian authorities – simply click on the Tweets below! (note: Twitter has a significant impact within the region, including solidarity with human rights defenders)