Egypt is releasing human rights workers under increasing international pressure

CAIRO “Weeks after the arrest of three employees of one of Egypt’s most recent and well-known human rights groups, the authorities released the men,” the group’s lawyers for the Egyptian Personal Rights Initiative say.

The three men – Gasser Abdel-Razek, Executive Director of the Initiative; Kareem Ennarah, Director of Criminal Justice; and Mohamed Basheer, its administrative leader, were arrested at various times since mid-November, becoming the latest victim of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s wide-ranging campaign to quell Egyptian conflicts.

While the government banned many human rights leaders from traveling, froze their assets and obstructed their work, most escaped prison until last month. Thousands of alleged political opponents, including activists, protesters, lawyers, journalists and political critics, have been imprisoned since Mr el-Sisi took power in 2014.

The arrest of the trio has received international attention as diplomats, Western policymakers, and even celebrities have called for their release. Scarlett Johansson recorded a video in which she expressed her support; Emma Thompson and Stephen Fry wished Mr. Ennarah a happy birthday, who turned 37 in prison on Monday. The Egyptian government has also faced pressure from several European countries, whose ambassadors met with the staff of the Initiative on 3 November to discuss human rights.

Some activists say his catalyst for his release may have been President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s secretary of state, Antony Blinken, who indicated that the incoming administration had a tougher stance on Egypt on human rights issues than President Trump, who called him “my favorite dictator.” -Sisi careers.

“Meeting foreign diplomats is not a crime,” Blinken tweeted after the arrests. “He also stands peacefully for human rights.”

While it is difficult to decode the government’s motivation to arrest and then release the men, the release reflects a desire to land on the right foot with the new U.S. president.

The three men were asked about their meetings with Western diplomats on November 3 by joining a terrorist group and spreading false information. Prosecutors also ordered the freezing of the Initiative’s assets, which called into question the group’s ability to continue its human rights work.

Prosecutors have resolutely filed an order to freeze the group’s assets to a terrorist court, suggesting that while employees are free to go, the organization’s troubles may continue. The court will decide on the order next week.

Another member of the initiative’s staff, Patrick Zaki, who was arrested in February for flying back from Italy to Cairo airport, remains in prison.

“Citizens’ latest attempt to stifle all forms of civilian life against the EIPR, paving the way for even deeper action in the future, unless the constitution and all Egyptian freedoms come together and end,” the initiative said in a statement this week. .

It is unclear whether the charges against the three men have been denied, said Ragia Omran, one of their lawyers. But their release suggests that prosecutors may not be following their hearings.

In prison, Mr. Abdel-Razek was held in solitary confinement and was initially denied access to the warm clothes and money his family had given him to buy food from the prison commissioner.

For this week, all three men from the family were visited.

On Thursday night, the Dostor pro-government news reported that the men were being released. Then Mohamed Anwar Sadat, nephew of former President Anwar Sadat and a longtime politician who helped mediate between men’s supporters and the government, confirmed the news, encouraging their lawyers and families to await their release outside a Cairo police station.

A few hours later, all three were home.

Nada Rashwan contributed to the report.