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Egypt: Leading Rights Group Official Arrested

Midnight Home Raid Follows Organization’s Meeting with Ambassadors

Several European diplomats attend a meeting at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights' (EIPR) office in Cairo on November 3, 2020.  © 2020 Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights

Update November 19, 2020: On November 19, Egyptian security forces arrested Gasser Abdel-Razek, the executive director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), at his home in Cairo and took him to an unknown location. On November 18, the authorities arrested Karim Ennarah, the EIPR  criminal justice director. Ennarah appeared at the Supreme State Security Prosecution in Cairo, 24 hours after he was taken into custody, where a prosecutor ordered his pretrial detention for 15 days.

(Beirut) – Egyptian security forces have arrested and detained a leader of a major human rights group, Human Rights Watch said today.

The security forces raided the home of Mohamed Basheer, the human resources director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), in the early morning hours of November 15, 2020, and detained him on what appear to be abusive terrorism charges. Basheer’s arrest followed a November 3 meeting the group hosted with European diplomats to discuss human rights in Egypt.

“Egypt’s arrest of EIPR’s Mohamed Basheer is a dangerous escalation of the government’s campaign against human rights organizations,” said Amr Magdi, Middle East and North Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities should release everyone detained for their human rights work and end its harassment of independent activists and groups.”

An EIPR source told Human Rights Watch that “heavily armed” police and National Security Agency officers arrested Basheer at his home in Cairo and held him in an undisclosed location for 12 hours, interrogating him about the group’s work, including the meeting with diplomats.

The authorities then transferred him to the Supreme State Security Prosecution office in eastern Cairo. There, prosecutors questioned him about EIPR publications and legal aid work and ordered him detained for 15 days pending investigations on allegations of “joining a terrorist organization” and “spreading false information.” The source said the authorities presented no evidence to justify either charge.

The November 3 meeting at EIPR’s Cairo office included ambassadors and diplomats from Germany, France, the Netherlands, Italy, and Belgium.

Prosecutors added Basheer to Case 855 of 2020 in which people have been detained, charged, and held for months without trial. They include human rights defenders and lawyers such as Mohamed al-Baqr and Mahinour al-Masry, journalists such as Islam Mohamed, and a political science professor, Hazem Hosny.

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights is one of Egypt’s leading human rights organizations and has been at the center of the government’s relentless vendetta against human rights and other independent organization since 2013. The authorities in 2016 froze the assets of EIPR’s founder, Hossam Bahgat, and have prevented him from leaving the country since then.

On February 7, the authorities detained the EIPR’s researcher on gender issues, Patrick George Zaki, at Cairo Airport upon his return from his studies in Italy. National Security Agency officers held Zaki incommunicado for roughly 24 hours and tortured him, including with electric shocks, his lawyers said. Prosecutors and judges have since routinely renewed his pretrial detention without presenting any evidence of wrongdoing.

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