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UN experts urge release of Egyptian rights defenders

UN human rights experts on Friday condemned Egypt for the arbitrary arrest and detention of three human rights defenders, apparently after they discussed human rights issues with foreign ambassadors.

“It is absolutely abhorrent to retaliate against human rights defenders from one of Egypt’s last functioning human rights NGOs, simply for exercising their right to freedom of expression by discussing Egypt’s human rights situation,” the experts said.

“These arrests underline the very grave risks human rights defenders face in Egypt every day while carrying out their legitimate work,” they said.

The experts include Mary Lawlor, special rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders; Clement Nyaletsossi Voule, special rapporteur on the rights of peaceful assembly; and Fionnuala Ni Aolain, special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism.

“They are only the latest steps in an escalating campaign against the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) and are part of a broader move to limit civic space and target those who operate within it,” they said.

Within days of a meeting with 13 foreign ambassadors and diplomats on Nov. 3, security forces arrested three members of the group.

They included the group’s Executive Director Gasser Abdel Razek; Karim Ennarah, director of criminal justice; and Mohammad Basheer, administrative manager.

They face terrorism and public security charges.

Authorities have targeted the organization since 2016 when they froze the accounts of former EIPR director and founder Hossam Bahgat, and they banned him from leaving the country.

In February 2020, EIPR’s gender rights researcher Patrick Zaki was arrested and remains in pre-trial detention on charges relating to terrorism and incitement.

All four men are being held in the Tora prison complex just south of Cairo, with the experts saying there are concerning reports that at least one of them is in solitary confinement.

The experts called for charges against all four defenders to be dropped, for them to be released immediately and unconditionally, and for authorities to cease targeting Hossam Bahgat and EIPR.

Promotion and defense of human rights should not be regarded as terrorism, the experts said.

“We deeply regret that despite several calls from the United Nations human rights mechanisms and the international community, Egypt continues to use counter-terrorism legislation to target civil society,” they said.​​​​​​​

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