Pressure works: Egypt releases human rights defenders

December 4, 2020

Many media (here Sudarsan Raghavan for the Washington Post on 3 December 2020) have reported the good news that three Egyptian human rights defenders were released from detention Thursday after a wave of international condemnation against the Arab nation’s authoritarian government that included UN and Hollywood celebrities.

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/09/25/rafto-prize-for-2020-goes-to-the-egyptian-commission-for-rights-and-freedoms-ecrf/

The trio — Gasser Abdel-Razek, Karim Ennarah and Mohamed Basheer — work for the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, one of the few remaining rights groups in Egypt, where President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi has waged a massive crackdown on opponents and activists alike.

“They are fine, they are in good spirits,” said Ragya Omran, their lawyer, Thursday night.

 The three men were arrested last month after they met with 13 Western diplomats to discuss ways to improve human rights conditions in Egypt. A few days after the meeting, they were rounded up by Egyptian security forces over a week-long period and charged with “joining a terrorist organization” and “using social media accounts to spread false information.” [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/11/18/in-reprisal-for-talking-to-diplomats-egypt-arrests-human-rights-defender-mohamed-basheern/]

“It was a very quick and clean release, which is unprecedented,” Omran said. “There was a lot of international pressure. … It worked.”

Few arrests have sparked the global outrage that followed the detention of the EIPR employees. The United Nations, France and other governments publicly denounced the arrests. Antony Blinken, President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee for secretary of state, declared in a tweet that “meeting with foreign diplomats is not a crime. Nor is peacefully advocating for human rights.”

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/11/29/2020-award-of-european-bars-associations-ccbe-goes-to-seven-egyptian-lawyers-who-are-in-prison/

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/10/09/un-expresses-deep-concern-over-egypt-using-special-terror-courts-to-silence-human-rights-defenders/

On social media, a petition campaign with the hashtags #FreeEIPRstaff and #FreeKarimEnnarah went viral, spearheaded by Ennarah’s British wife, Jess Kelly. It prompted Hollywood celebrities such as Scarlett Johansson and Emma Thompson to post videos of themselves on YouTube urging the release of the EIPR staffers. In Egypt, EIPR remained vocal and defiant.

On Thursday night, after the three men took cabs from the prison to their homes, one of the group’s leaders publicly noted that the global outcry played a significant role in convincing the regime to release his colleagues.

I can confirm my friends and EIPR colleague, Gasser, Basheer and Karim have been released and are home which I guess means we (and you) managed to #FreeEIPRstaff,tweeted Hossam Bahgat, the organization’s founder.

Bahgat, despite being under a travel ban and asset freeze imposed by the Sissi government, returned to take the helm last month after Abdel-Razek, its executive director, was taken into custody. Placed in a cold cell, he was initially denied warm clothing and a mattress, among other ill treatment, said Amnesty International.

On 18 December the EU started to look again at its relation: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20201218-european-parliament-calls-for-review-in-relations-with-egypt/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/egypt-human-rights-campaign-international–outcry/2020/12/03/bda49858-3599-11eb-9699-00d311f13d2d_story.html

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/egypt-civil-rights-scarlett-johansson-eipr-leaders-release-free-karim-ennarah/

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