Three staff members of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights were arrested after meeting with foreign diplomats.
Human rights organisations have condemned the ‘outrageous’ arrest of three civil liberties activists by Egyptian police.
Gasser Abdel Razek, the director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), was arrested on Thursday evening following the detention of his colleagues Karim Ennarah on Wednesday and Mohamed Basheer on Sunday.
The EIPR met with foreign diplomats on November 3 to discuss Egypt’s human rights situation, including members of the Swiss diplomatic mission in the country.
According to Deutsche Welle, that same day, the organisation had published a report detailing the deterioration of human rights in Egypt, including rising use of the death penalty against prisoners.
The report said that 53 executions had taken place in October alone and that in many of the cases, the killings were not officially acknowledged.
While the Egyptian authorities have not produced any evidence of wrongdoing, Abdel Razak, Ennahar, and Basheer have nevertheless been charged with belonging to a terrorist organisation and spreading fake news.
Such charges are typically used against political opponents of the regime despite there being no evidence of violent intent among the overwhelming majority of those arrested.
Despite the arrest of its leader and other staff, EIPR has remained steadfast in its criticism of the human rights situation in Egypt and has issued a call for solidarity to politicians and activists around the world.
In a statement, the organisation said: “This attack comes as a clear and coordinated response to EIPR’s activism and work on a number of files, foremost of which is monitoring conditions in places of detention and prisons, especially under the COVID-19 pandemic, and its monitoring of the unprecedented surge in the issuance and execution of death sentences.”
Political leaders and rights groups from around the world have responded to EIPR’s call with declarations of their support.
Former Democratic US presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren called the arrest of the activists ‘unacceptable’.
“They should be immediately released and allowed to continue their important work defending human rights without interference.” Warren wrote on Twitter.
Eventual Democratic nominee and president-elect, Joe Biden, has previously said that he would issue "no more blank checks for Trump's favourite dictator” over Egyptian President Abdel Fattah’s deteriorating record of human rights abuses in power.
In its statement, Amnesty International called on the international community to use its influence to secure the release of the men after their 'outrageous' arrest.
“These arrests, following a meeting at EIPR with western diplomats, serve a heavy blow against the legitimate work of human rights defenders. Time for the international community to call on Egypt to end reprisals against human rights organizations and release EIPR staff now,” the organisation wrote in a statement posted to Twitter.
Some analysts and activists speculated that the Egyptian government was using the arrests as a message to foreign diplomats not to interfere in what it considers its domestic issues.
Despite its human rights record, Egypt’s strong alliance with Israel and fondness for European and US products has meant Western states have traditionally been reluctant to challenge it on human rights abuses.
After a brief period of reform following the 2011 Egyptian revolution, Egypt’s human rights situation has dramatically deteriorated following the military coup in June 2013, which ousted Egypt’s only democratically elected president, the late Mohamed Morsi.
Following the massacre of upwards of a thousand Morsi supporters in Cairo’s Rabaa Square in August that same year, Sisi embarked on a campaign of mass arrest, initially detaining supporters of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood organisation but later targeting secular and civil society activists.