Egypt releases rights activists after global pressure

Egypt released three staff members of a leading human rights organisation following a concerted international campaign to free them – including concern expressed by US President-elect Joe Biden’s team.

Police arrested the three on charges of “joining a terror group” and “spreading false news” after a public meeting with foreign ambassadors on November 3 to discuss human rights in the country.

Egypt released three staff members of a leading human rights organisation following a concerted international campaign to free them – including concern expressed by US President-elect Joe Biden’s team.

Police arrested the three on charges of “joining a terror group” and “spreading false news” after a public meeting with foreign ambassadors on November 3 to discuss human rights in the country.

EIPR executive director Gasser Abdel-Razek, senior researcher Karim Ennarah, and office manager Mohamed Basheer – all detained within the same week but days apart – had been kept in pre-trial detention.

“After the submission of the necessary legal paperwork of registering the group as a non-profit organisation, the public prosecution has ordered the release of Gasser Abdel-Razek and members of the Initiative,” said a brief statement sent to the AFP news agency by a security and judicial source.

A fourth staff member, Patrick Zaky, was detained in February while on a visit to Cairo from Bologna where he was completing a Master’s degree. It is unclear whether he will also be released.

A new law regulating the work of civil society organisations was recently approved by Egypt’s cabinet after the arrests drew global condemnation including from allies such as Germany and France.

An international campaign drawing in celebrities and politicians urged Cairo to release the activists. Actresses Scarlett Johansson and Emma Thompson, as well as British comedian Stephen Fry, lent their support.

The United Nations urged Egypt to release them while the US State Department under outgoing President Donald Trump said it was “deeply concerned”.

Antony Blinken, Biden’s nominee for US secretary of state, tweeted last month “meeting with foreign diplomats is not a crime. Nor is peacefully advocating for human rights”.

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