Following widespread international criticism, three members of a leading Egyptian human rights group, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), accused of links with a terror group, “spreading false news” and detained in Cairo last month have been freed.
The UN’s human rights agency had described the arrests as “chilling”, with Celebrities like Emma Thompson, Stephen Fry and Scarlett Johansson joining politicians in criticizing the arrests.
Dozens of activists have been arrested under Egypt’s President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, who led the military’s overthrow of his democratically elected predecessor Mohammed Morsi in 2013 following protests against his rule.
Egypt, however, has repeatedly denied accusations of human rights violations. In a statement last month, EIPR said security forces had arrested its lead member Gasser Abdel-Razek at his home in Maadi, south of Cairo, on 19 November.
It said that days earlier its director of criminal justice, Karim Ennarah, was arrested in the town of Dahab and its office manager, Mohammed Basheer, had been detained in Cairo.
All three men had been detained pending investigations, it said that Basheer’s home had been raided and he had been questioned about a visit on 3 November by senior Western diplomats to the EIPR’s Cairo office to discuss human rights.
The EIPR described the arrests as a “clear and co-ordinated response” to its work, which includes monitoring places of detention and the issuance of death sentences. It said Abdel-Razek’s arrest was “an attempt to put an end to organised and legitimate human rights work in Egypt”.
Meanwhile, Ravina Shamdasani, spokeswoman for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the arrests were feared to be part of a broader pattern of intimidation and silencing dissent.
On Thursday, the EIPR confirmed in a tweet that in an “unusual” move, all three men had been released from Tora jail, adding “welcome home”. EIPR is an independent group whose work covers a variety of political, civil, economic and social issues.
A researcher for the group, Patrick Zaky, who was arrested in February, is still in detention. EIPR says he is being held on suspicion of spreading fake news, misusing social media and inciting protest without permission.