A group of UN independent human rights experts have called on Egyptian authorities to “immediately and unconditionally” release some human rights activists allegedly arrested on terrorism and public security charges.
The UN human rights office (OHCHR) alleged that they were arrested for discussing human rights issues with foreign ambassadors.
The activists, who are members of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), were arrested days after meeting with 13 foreign ambassadors and diplomats on 3 November.
“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 UN experts said in a statement on Friday.
“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 EIPR and are part of a broader move to limit civic space and target those who operate within it,” they added.
The arrested EIPR officials include Executive Director Gasser Abdel Razek; director of criminal justice Karim Ennarah; and administrative manager Mohammad Basheer.
According to the statement, authorities have targeted the human rights NGO since 2016, when the bank accounts of former EIPR director and founder Hossam Bahgat were frozen and he was banned 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 capital Cairo, with concerning reports that at least one of them is being held 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 Mr. Bahgat and EIPR.
“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,” the experts added.
In the statement, the UN rights experts also underscored that vilification of human rights defenders as a threat to society is not only harmful to the defenders, but to all members of Egyptian society.
“Criminalizing those who defend human rights – and those who bring to light violations of human rights – undermines the sanctity of those rights,” they said.
“Human rights defenders and civil society activists must never be penalized for their efforts to ensure the protection of the rights of others … 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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