Egypt has released three members of a leading human rights organisation that were detained in Cairo following international criticism and campaigning to free them.

The three men who worked for the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) were arrested on charges of “joining a terror group” and “spreading false news”, and were pending investigations after a public meeting with foreign ambassadors to discuss human rights on 3 November.

The detainees were EIPR executive director Gasser Abdel-Razek, who was arrested at his home, senior researcher and director of criminal justice Karim Ennarah, arrested two days prior in the town of Dahab, and EIPR’s office manager Mohamed Basheer, detained in Cairo, whose home was raided.  

A fourth member of staff, researcher Patrick Zaky, who was detained in February while on a visit to Cairo from Italy, is still in detention. It is unclear when or if he will be released. He is being held on suspicion of spreading fake news, misusing social media and inciting protest without permission.

Of the few that are still active in Egpyt, EIPR is the most prominent human rights organisation whose work covers a variety of political, civil, economic, and social issues. They aim to defend the rights of all Egyptians and continue to work on documenting civil rights violations, prison conditions, sectarian violence, and discrimination against women and religious minorities.

Human rights groups claim that dozens of activists have been arrested or subjected to travel bans and asset freezes 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.

Recently, Amnesty International condemned the “chilling rise” in executions and the use of the death penalty, accusing authorities of a “horrifying execution spree”, exposing the depth of Egypt’s human rights crisis.

However, Egypt has repeatedly denied the accusations of human rights violations.

Response

Celebrities have also been involved in voicing their criticism of the arrests. Actresses Scarlett Johansson and Emma Thompson, as well as comedian Stephen Fry, joined politicians in offering their support.

Furthermore, spokeswoman for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ravina Shamdasani, expressed her concerns that the arrests were part of a broader pattern of intimidation and silencing dissent.

The EIPR similarly labelled the arrests as a “clear and co-ordinated response” to its work and said Mr Abdel-Razek’s arrest was “an attempt to put an end to organised and legitimate human rights work in Egypt”.

The release of the men came after the UN called for their freedom, and after both France and the US State Department under outgoing President Donald Trump said it was “deeply concerned”, with Biden’s nominee for US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, also tweeting last month in support of their release.