Rights group’s employees arrested after diplomats’ visit

CAIRO (AP) — An Egyptian rights group said on Wednesday that security forces arrested two of its employees, the latest in a years-long crackdown on dissent and rights advocates by the government.

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) said the group’s Director of Criminal Justice Karim Ennarah was arrested on Wednesday while on vacation in the Red Sea resort of Dahab in South Sinai. His whereabouts were unknown, the group said.

An Egyptian media officer said he could not immediately comment on the issue.

Ennarah’s arrest came three days after security forces detained the group’s Administrative Director Mohamed Basheer in Cairo following a visit by Western diplomats to the group earlier this month.

The November 3 meeting included envoys from Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands, among others and they discussed ways to improve Egypt’s human rights record, according to the group.

Prosecutors ordered Basheer to remain in custody for 15 days pending an investigation into accusations of joining a terrorist group and disseminating false news “that undermines public security and harming national interest”, according to the group.

France’s Foreign Ministry on Tuesday voiced its “deep concern” over Basheer’s arrest. “France maintains a frank, exacting dialogue with Egypt on human rights issues, including individual cases,” it said in a statement.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Hafez on Wednesday said Egypt rejects the French statement as “an interference in Egypt’s internal affairs”. He said in a statement that the EIPR’s work is illegitimate as it is registered as a firm and not as a non-governmental organisation. He didn’t elaborate.

Amnesty International condemned the arrests as “a heavy blow against the legitimate work of human rights defenders”. The London-based group called for the release of EIPR’s employees and an end to Egypt’s “reprisals” against right groups and advocates.