Egypt releases human rights workers after international outcry

Gasser Abdel-Razek, Mohamed Basheer and Karim Ennarah left Tora Prison on Thursday, their organization confirmed.

al-monitor Among prominent people who pushed for the release of three Egyptian human rights advocates who were freed Thursday in Cairo was actor Scarlett Johansson, who said they had been held on “bogus charges.” Here, Mila Kunis supports Johansson as she speaks during the Women's March Los Angeles 2018 on Jan. 20, 2018, in Los Angeles. Photo by Chelsea Guglielmino/Getty Images.

Dec 3, 2020

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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