Authorities in Egypt must end their vicious reprisal campaign against the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) and immediately and unconditionally release three senior staff members arrested arbitrarily, said Amnesty International today.
The crackdown took place after the group held a human rights briefing with 13 Western diplomats. Gasser Abdel-Razek, EIPR’s Executive Director and a veteran human rights defender, is the third senior staff member to be detained in just five days.
Amnesty International calls on countries whose representatives attended the meeting on 3 November, including the United Kingdom, Canada and Germany, to break their silence and publicly demand Egypt release these human rights defenders and end its brutal repression of the human rights community.
“This is an unprecedented crackdown on the human rights community and could well go beyond EIPR to engulf the few other remaining brave groups. The tepid response by the international community risks emboldening the Egyptian authorities and sends a terrifying message to civil society that human rights work will not be tolerated,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Research and Advocacy Director.
“These arrests, the smear campaign against the organization and the government’s baseless claim that EIPR operates illegally, show that this is a well-planned and concerted attack. Accusing NGO staff of ‘joining a terrorist group’ is an assault on the organization and the human rights values it represents.”
The reprisals campaign began after the briefing with diplomats at EIPR’s office. Ambassadors from Germany, France, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and Switzerland as well as Chargés d’Affaires of Canada, Norway, and Sweden, the deputy ambassador of the United Kingdom and representatives from the European Commission in Cairo attended. Diplomats and the EIPR shared photos of the meeting on social media.
On the evening of 19 November, plainclothes security forces arrested Gasser Abdelrazek from his home in Maadi, Cairo. He appeared before Supreme State Security Prosecutors (SSSP) at 1:30 am and was questioned over fabricated “terrorism”-related charges. Prosecutors then ordered his pre-trial detention for 15 days.
Earlier that day prosecutors had ordered the detention of EIPR’s Criminal Justice Unit Director Karim Ennarah for 15 days pending investigations over similar charges. Security forces arrested him on 18 November at a beach resort in Dahab, South Sinai, where he had been on vacation. They took him to an undisclosed location and detained him incommunicado for 24 hours before bringing him before the SSSP, where he was questioned about his work including on conditions of detention and the death penalty.
The first detention took place on 15 November, when security forces arrested Administrative Director Mohamed Bashseer from his home. After being held for about 12 hours at a facility controlled by the National Security Agency, where he was questioned while blindfolded about the diplomats’ visit and other EIPR work, he was taken to the SSSP, which ordered his detention pending investigations.
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.
This campaign is the latest in a string of crackdowns on NGOs since the 2011 raid and prosecution of staff from five international organizations, known as Case 173, or Egypt’s “foreign funding case”. In 2013, 43 foreign and Egyptian staff were convicted on charges of operating unlawfully and receiving foreign funding without authorities and sentences to prison terms.
After years of lobbying by the US and German governments, in a retrial, a Cairo Criminal Court acquitted all defendants in 2018, but criminal investigations continue against local civil society groups. As part of the case, EIPR’s founder Hossam Bahgat has been under a travel ban since 2016 and his assets have been frozen. At least 30 other human rights defenders are banned from travel and nine have their assets frozen.
EIPR has remained one of a handful of independent human rights organizations that have bravely continued to operate in Egypt. Patrick George Zaki, an EIPR gender rights researcher, remains arbitrarily detained following his arrest in February 2020 upon his return from studying in Italy.
“This is a test for the international community,” said Philip Luther “There is a need for urgent, coordinated and public action, backed by strong measures, to call on Egyptian authorities to end the crackdown and release all those detained. Failure to act threatens the very survival of the human rights community in Egypt.”
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.