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UN High Commissioner Spokesperson: The arrest of three human rights defenders in Egypt is a “very worrying development”

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Press release: 

Translated and edited by: Committee for Justice, Geneva, November 20, 2020

The Spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ravina Shamdasani, said that the arrest of three human rights defenders in Egypt this week is a very worrying development that highlights the vulnerable situation of civil society activists in the country.

Retaliatory arrests:

On Thursday, Egyptian security forces arrested Gasser Abdel Razek, the Executive Director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), and Karim Ennarah, EIPR’s director of Criminal Justice, was arrested on Wednesday while he was on holiday in the city of Dahab, South Sinai. Their arrest came days after the arrest of Mohammad Basheer, EIPR’s administrative manager, from his home in Cairo on Sunday.

Basheer was questioned about the legal support provided by the organisation to victims of human rights violations. Bashir and Ennarah have been detained and charged with terrorism-related charges, spreading false news, and using an online account to spread false information that would undermine public security, under Case No. 855/2020.

The spokesperson believed that since the interrogations focused on a meeting held by the EIPR earlier this month with 13 ambassadors and diplomats, it appears that these arrests were in retaliation against human rights defenders.

Targeting the EIPR is not new:

Shamdasani indicated that this is not the first time that this organisation has been targeted by Egypt’s security forces. Last February, Patrick George Zak, a gender rights researcher at the EIPR, was arrested and charged with terrorism-related charges. Zaki has been detained pending trial since then, and the UN Commission on Human Rights has received information that he was tortured during his interrogation by the National Security Agency.

The spokesperson added that the founder of the organisation, Hossam Bahgat, has been prevented from leaving Egypt, and his assets have been frozen, in conjunction with a smear campaign against the organisation that began in the Egyptian media, and the authorities have labelled the EIPR as an “illegal organisation.”

Arrests to intimidate human rights defenders in Egypt:

“We are worried that these recent arrests and detentions are part of a broader pattern of intimidating organisations defending human rights and of the use of counter-terrorism and national security legislation to silence dissent,” Shamdasani said.

She added: “The use of sweeping counter-terrorism laws and vague charges such as “joining a terrorist organisation” and “spreading false information” to harass and criminalise the work of human rights defenders is inconsistent with the rule of law and Egypt’s obligations under international human rights law.”

Shamdasani expressed grave concern that the targeting of human rights defenders and other activists, as well as additional restrictions imposed on freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly imposed in the country, are having a profound chilling effect on Egyptian civil society, which is already weak.

Concerns about recent executions:

On the other hand, Shamdasani expressed that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is alarmed about reports of the execution of around 50 people last month, amid allegations of violation of due process and fair trial rights in some of these cases, calling on Egyptian authorities to declare a moratorium on the death penalty with a view to abolition and to take all steps to ensure strict adherence to due process guarantees and all possible safeguards to ensure a fair trial

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