Three activists from the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), who were imprisoned for almost a month in pre-trial detention, were released by the Egyptian authorities on Thursday, December 3, following a sustained international campaign. EIPR’s executive director Gasser Abdel-Razek, criminal justice director Karim Ennarah, and office manager Mohammed Basheer were released from the Tora prison on Thursday, EIPR said in a tweet.
In a statement, the Egyptian authorities said that “after the submission of the necessary legal paperwork of registering the group as a non-profit organization, the public prosecution has ordered the release of Gasser Abdel-Razek and members of the Initiative.” Their cases are still pending, according to the public prosecution. The three human rights defenders are facing serious criminal charges, such as joining a terrorist group, funding terrorism, undermining public security, publishing false news, and using social media to circulate false information.
These criminal charges have been rejected by the EIPR as false, malicious and baseless. Several human rights groups working in Egypt and internationally, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, EuroMed Rights and others, have expressed concerns over the premeditated nature of the charges and the arrest of the three activists. Rights organizations have termed it a shocking escalation in the Egyptian government’s broader crackdown on criticism, dissent and opposition. Thousands of human rights activists, journalists, students, lawyers, social media bloggers, opposition politicians, and Muslim Brotherhood members have been arrested and thrown in prison since the government of Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi captured power in a 2013 military coup. Human rights groups estimate that more than 60,000 Egyptians have been arrested and jailed by the government for purely political and ideological reasons.
The three EIPR members were arrested last month in a series of arrests after they attended a routine meeting in the beginning of the month with diplomats from 13 Western countries, including from France, UK, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland and Belgium, to discuss the status of human rights in Egypt. This was reportedly an annually held meeting that is part of the yearly review and reassessment of the relationship between Egypt and these countries and the European Union’s Egypt Association Agreement.
Following the news of the arrests, multiple statements of concern and condemnation were issued by the ambassadors of several of these countries. Influential US senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders also denounced the arrests and demanded the activists’ release. Antony Blinken, the incoming US secretary of state for president-elect Joe Biden, also spoke in support of the activists and appealed to Egypt for their release. The current US administration under president Donald Trump said that it is “deeply concerned.”
The United Nations had also urged the Egyptian government to immediately release the three activists. Some EU countries came out with stronger statements against the arrests and calling for his release. The Egyptian government responded to the criticism by rejecting it as international attempts to interfere in an internal judicial investigation and accused these countries and international organizations of trying to “influence Egypt’s domestic affairs.”
Meanwhile, another alarming report by Amnesty International revealed this week that the Egyptian government has put to death at least 57 people between October and November in a “horrifying execution spree.” The report added that this is almost double the number of executions carried out by Egypt in all of 2019.