Egypt arrests: Three human rights members released from detention

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Karim Ennarah (family handout)Image source, Jess Kelly
Image caption,
Karim Ennarah was reportedly detained while on holiday at a Red Sea resort

Three members of a leading Egyptian human rights group detained in Cairo last month have been freed following widespread international criticism.

The men, who worked for the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), were accused of links with a terror group and "spreading false news".

The UN's human rights agency had described the arrests as "chilling".

Celebrities Emma Thompson, Stephen Fry and Scarlett Johansson joined politicians in criticising the arrests.

EIPR is an independent group whose work covers a variety of political, civil, economic and social issues.

A researcher for the group, Patrick Zaky, who was arrested in February, is still in detention.

EIPR says he is being held on suspicion of spreading fake news, misusing social media and inciting protest without permission.

Dozens of activists have been arrested under Egypt's President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, who led the military's overthrow of his democratically elected predecessor Mohammed Morsi in 2013 following protests against his rule.

Egypt, however, has repeatedly denied accusations of human rights violations.

In a statement last month, EIPR said security forces had arrested its lead member Gasser Abdel-Razek at his home in Maadi, south of Cairo, on 19 November.

Image source, Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights
Image caption,
Gasser Abdel-Razek was arrested at his home south of Cairo

It said that days earlier its director of criminal justice, Karim Ennarah, was arrested in the town of Dahab and its office manager, Mohammed Basheer, had been detained in Cairo.

All three men had been detained pending investigations, it said, adding that Mr Basheer's home had been raided and he had been questioned about a visit on 3 November by senior Western diplomats to the EIPR's Cairo office to discuss human rights.

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The EIPR described the arrests as a "clear and co-ordinated response" to its work, which includes monitoring places of detention and the issuance of death sentences.

It said Mr Abdel-Razek's arrest was "an attempt to put an end to organised and legitimate human rights work in Egypt".

Meanwhile, Ravina Shamdasani, spokeswoman for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the arrests were feared to be part of a broader pattern of intimidation and silencing dissent.

On Thursday, the EIPR confirmed in a tweet that in an "unusual" move, all three men had been released from Tora jail, adding "welcome home".

Their release comes after the UN called for the men to be freed, and after both France and the US state department said they were "deeply concerned" about their detention.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
US actress Scarlett Johansson was among several celebrities to criticise the arrests

Separately, Hollywood actress Johansson shared a video published on EIPR's YouTube channel on 1 December urging the authorities in Cairo to release the men, who she said were "standing up to defend the dignity of Egyptians".

"Speaking out loud has become dangerous today in Egypt," she added.

British comedian Stephen Fry, and actors Emma Thompson, Joseph Fiennes and Bill Nighy also condemned the arrests and shared messages of support.

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