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Egyptian rights group's director held in solitary confinement, lawyers say

Gasser Abdel-Razek and two of his colleagues were arrested in what experts say is a renewed crackdown on human rights defenders.
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Gasser Abdel-Razek, the head of one of Egypt’s top human rights organizations, has been held in solitary confinement following his arrest last week, his lawyers say. 

Egyptian security forces have arrested three senior members of the Cairo-based Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) this month in what’s viewed as an escalating crackdown on groups that promote fundamental freedoms in Egypt. 

Abdel-Razek, Mohamed Basheer and Karim Ennarah were each accused of membership in a terrorist group and of spreading false news. They remain in pre-trial detention at the notorious Tora Prison complex. 

“Gasser told lawyers he is kept in solitary in Leman Tora [prison], all his belongings and money were confiscated, he sleeps on a metal bed with neither mattress nor winter clothes,” EIPR said on Twitter.

“Those responsible for such violations will pay the price," the group said, adding that his lawyers were in the process of taking necessary legal steps. 

Since taking power after a 2013 coup, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has waged what human rights groups have described as an unprecedented assault on dissent marked by widespread arrests, forced disappearances and extrajudicial killings. Human Rights Watch has accused Egyptian security forces of disappearing and torturing children as young as 12.

The Egyptian government denies the allegations, and in a recent statement, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Ahmed Hafez said “the Egyptian state respects the rule of law.” 

Earlier this month, EIPR hosted a meeting with more than a dozen European diplomats in Cairo. The recent wave of arrests, which is seen as apparent retaliation, has drawn sharp criticism from Europe and the United States. 

“We urge the government of Egypt to release those detained and to respect the fundamental freedoms of expression and association,” State Department deputy spokesperson Cale Brown said in a statement Friday.

President-elect Joe Biden's choice for secretary of state, Antony Blinken, also tweeted his concerns.  

“Meeting with foreign diplomats is not a crime. Nor is peacefully advocating for human rights,” he said. 

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