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Egypt releases human rights workers after international outcry

Gasser Abdel-Razek, Mohamed Basheer and Karim Ennarah left Tora Prison on Thursday, their organization confirmed.
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Egypt has released three human rights campaigners whose arrests last month triggered widespread international condemnation, their organization said Thursday.

“I can confirm my friends and @eipr colleagues Gasser, Basheer and Karim have been released and are home which I guess means we (and you) managed to #FreeEIPRstaff,” tweeted Hossam Bahgat, the founder of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.

Executive Director Gasser Abdel-Razek, Mohamed Basheer and Karim Ennarah returned home from the notorious Tora Prison complex in southern Cairo on Thursday, where they had been held on charges that included membership in a terrorist group and spreading false news. Lawyers for Abdel-Razek said he had been held in solitary confinement. 

After the three were arrested last month in apparent retaliation for a Nov. 3 meeting their organization held with Western diplomats in Cairo, Egypt has faced sharp criticism from human rights groups, foreign governments and a number of Hollywood celebrities. 

In a video posted to social media, actress Scarlett Johansson described Abdel-Razek, Basheer and Ennarah as "the best of us” and blasting the “bogus charges” on which they were held. 

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

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

Biden is expected to take a tougher approach to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who rights groups say has waged a crackdown on dissent since taking power in a 2013 coup. According to Human Rights Watch, Egypt under Sisi has detained 60,000 people, including activists, academics, journalists and members of the Muslim Brotherhood, on trumped-up political charges. 

Amnesty International said in a new report this week that Egypt had executed at least 57 men and women between October and November, in what the London-based group called a “horrifying execution spree.” 

It’s unclear whether Egypt has dropped the charges against Abdel-Razek, Basheer and Ennarah. Patrick George Zaki, a researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights who was arrested in February, reportedly remains in detention. 

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