The last hours witnessed broad international and local solidarity with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights after three of its directors were arrested last week.
The United Nations, America, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, and Ireland expressed their grave concern over their arrest, as well as many human rights organisations and prominent political figures, who called on the Egyptian authorities to release them. The executive director of the initiative, Jasser Abdel-Razek, joined his fellow detainees, the administrative director of the human rights organisation Mohamed Bashir, and the director of the organisation’s criminal justice unit, Karim Anara. The authorities decided to detain the three for 15 days, pending investigations into Case No. 855 of 2020.
The prosecution charged them with “joining a terrorist group, broadcasting false statements that disturb public security and harm the public interest, and using an online account to publish false news.” International condemnations also came from the official spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Rafina Shamdasani, who issued a detailed statement on the arrest and interrogation of the initiative members. The statement described the use of anti-terrorism laws and vague accusations to criminalise human rights defenders’ work as “inconsistent with Egypt’s international obligations towards international human rights law.”
The US State Department expressed its deep concern over the arrest of the initiative’s employees. It urged the Egyptian government to release the detainees and respect basic freedoms of expression. Senator Bernie Sanders also commented, “The recent wave of arrests in Egypt of activists is angering.” He called on the next American administration to make it clear to Egypt and all countries that it would support democracy, not dictatorship. Other members of the US Congress also expressed their solidarity with the initiative and its team, including Tami Baldwin, Chris Coons, Ted Deutch, and Mark Buchan.
The foreign policy advisor for the US President-elect Joe Biden’s campaign expressed his concern about the arrest of the three human rights defenders. “We share concerns about the arrest of three officials of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights,” he said. The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee also condemned their arrest, saying that “the arrest of EIPR employees is disturbing and they should be released immediately.” She stressed the need for everyone to enjoy the freedom to exercise their human rights without fear of arbitrary arrest. The French Foreign Ministry expressed, in a statement, “its deep concern” following the arrest of the directors of the initiative, which it described as “committed to promoting human rights in Egypt.”
The French Foreign Ministry added in its statement: “France conducts a frank and firm dialogue with the Egyptian authorities in the field of human rights, including some individual cases.” She added, “France intends to continue this dialogue, as well as its commitment to protecting human rights defenders around the world.” The Irish ambassador, Sean Origen, said on Twitter that his country’s government expresses its concern over Abdel-Razek and his colleagues’ arrest after some ambassadors accredited to Egypt visited the initiative’s headquarters.
Adding that meeting with representatives of states to a wide range of actors, including civil society members, is a normal part of diplomatic practice in any country, and is indispensable for building bilateral relations between the two countries. On Friday, the German Foreign Ministry issued a statement, “clearly condemning the escalation against Egyptian civil society” and demanding the “immediate release of these human rights defenders.” The German ambassador attended the meeting that took place on November 3 at the EIPR office, alongside the Danish ambassador to Egypt, Svend Uling.
A brutal revenge campaign
Adnkronos Italian news agency reported that the Italian ambassador and other ambassadors sent a letter to the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Sameh Shoukry, calling for the release of members of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. The British Foreign Office stated that Foreign Minister Dominic Raab raised the issue with Shoukry. For its part, the Canadian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that human rights defenders should be allowed to work without fear of arrest or retaliation. “We urge the Egyptian authorities to adhere to basic freedoms of expression, belief, and human rights.” Fifty human rights organisations around the world in a joint statement expressed their solidarity with the EIPR team and demanded the immediate release of the imprisoned members of the team.
Amnesty International also called on Egypt to release the Egyptian human rights defenders, considering that arrest is a “repression” and a “heavy blow to human rights work.” Six Egyptian human rights organisations published a joint statement calling on “the defenders of democracy and human rights in Egypt, including individuals, organisations, associations, parties, and unions, to show solidarity with Egyptian human rights organisations.”
The statement considered what the initiative is directing as “a fierce security attack aimed at harming the ability of civil society to confront totalitarian rule.” In addition to the human rights convictions, several prominent politicians led by a member of the US Senate from Massachusetts, Elizabeth Warren, who ran the primary race to select the Democratic Party candidate in the US presidential election, condemned their arrest.
The ambassadors of Germany, Denmark, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Switzerland, France, Finland and the Netherlands, the acting ambassadors of Canada, Sweden and Norway, the deputy ambassador of the United Kingdom, and representatives of the European Commission in Cairo visited the headquarters of the initiative on 3 November. The meeting dealt with discussing ways to support the human rights situation in Egypt and around the world, according to a previous statement of the initiative. The current week witnessed a security crackdown on the initiative team members, which began with the arrest of Administrative Director Mohamed Bashir last Monday, followed by the arrest of the Director of the Organisation’s Criminal Justice Unit Karim Anara on Wednesday, leading to the arrest of Abdel Razek.
In conjunction with the security crackdown, an attack began from several newspapers and websites loyal to the regime, which published reports, with almost similar allegations, about the initiative’s work, according to anonymous sources or researchers’ opinions. Since its establishment in 2002, the initiative has worked on several issues, on top of which are criminal justice, civil liberties, and economic and social justice. Its work varies between advocacy, legal support to vulnerable groups, and publishing in-depth reports and studies in various fields. During the past years, the initiative clashed over some issues, including government measures accompanying the corona pandemic outbreak, the increasing death sentences in Egypt, and the ongoing security campaigns against people of different sexual orientations and sectarian violence.