Egypt crackdown sparks condemnations

CAIRO (AP) – A crackdown by Egyptian authorities on the most prominent human rights group still operating in the country sparked sharp criticism on Friday by the United Nations (UN), the United States (US) and other Western countries.

This week, security forces arrested three senior staff members of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), including its executive director. The State Security Prosecutors levelled terror-related charges against them and ordered their pre-trail detention for 15 days.

During a press briefing in Geneva, the UN Human Rights Office Spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani denounced the arrests as “a very worrying development that underscores the extreme vulnerability of civil society activists in the country”.

She expressed worry the arrests were “part of a broader pattern of intimidating organisations defending human rights and of the use of counter-terrorism and national security legislation to silence dissent”.

On Thursday, security forces arrested veteran human rights advocate and EIPR Executive Director Gasser Abdel Razek from his home in Cairo. A day earlier, head of the group’s criminal justice unit Karim Ennarah was arrested while on vacation in the Red Sea resort of Dahab in South Sinai. Ennarah’s arrest came three days after security forces in Cairo detained Mohamed Basheer, EIPR’s administrative director.

The arrests came after ambassadors and senior diplomats from 13 Western countries met with EIPR earlier this month for talks that EIPR said “discussed ways to improve human rights conditions in Egypt”.

US State Department Deputy Spokesman Cale Brown also expressed concern over the arrests, and the continued detention of a Coptic Christian activist, Ramy Kamel, arrested last year.

“We urge the government of Egypt to release those detained and to respect fundamental freedoms of expression and association,” he said in a tweet.