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UN experts call for release of Egyptian human rights defenders jailed after meeting diplomats

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News briefing: Translation and editing by: Committee for Justice

Geneva, 27 November 2020

United Nations human rights experts have condemned the arbitrary arrest of three human rights defenders affiliated with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), in an apparent retaliation for discussing human rights issues with foreign ambassadors.

Arrests as the latest escalation against the EIPR:

The experts said in a press statement published by the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva:

“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.

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

The arrests took place because of a meeting with 13 diplomats:

After a meeting with 13 foreign ambassadors and diplomats on November 3, Egyptian security forces arrested three EIPR officials, namely: Executive Director Jasser Abdel Razek, DIrector of Criminal Justice Karim Ennarah, and Muhammad Bashir, an administrative director.

All three of them are facing charges of terrorism and disturbing public security.

Egyptian authorities have been targeting the organization since 2016, when the bank accounts of the former EIPR director and founder, Hossam Bahgat, were frozen and he was banned from leaving the country.

In February 2020, a researcher in the field of gender rights in EIPR, Patrick Zaki, was arrested and remains in pretrial detention on charges related to terrorism and incitement.

The four men are being held in the Tora prison complex, south of Cairo, with disturbing news that at least one of them is being held in solitary confinement.

UN demands for the release of the detainees:

The experts demanded the reversal of charges against the four human rights defenders, their immediate and unconditional release, and an end to the targeting of Hossam Bahgat and the EIPR.

The experts emphasized that promoting and defending human rights should not be considered terrorism, referring to the charges against the three men who were arrested this month, which are: joining a terrorist organization, committing a crime involving the funding of terrorism, and broadcasting false news and statements on the internet on personal accounts that undermine public security and harm the national interest.

“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.

“This vilification of human rights defenders as a threat to society is not only harmful to human rights defenders, but to all members of Egyptian society,” said the experts. “Criminalising those who defend human rights – and those who bring to light violations of human rights – undermines the sanctity of those rights.”

“Human rights defenders and civil society activists must never be penalised for their efforts to ensure the protection of the rights of others,” the experts said. “These efforts must not be regarded as terrorism or a public threat. Quite the opposite: We should protect and value them for their contributions.”

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