The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders has called on the Egyptian government to stop targeting members of rights group Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR).
As part of its widening crackdown on free speech, which includes rights organisations, the Egyptian government has targeted the EIPR, escalating its repression in 2020.
Authorities have raided the home of EIPR’s Administrative Manager Mohamed Basheer and Executive Director Gasser Abdel-Razek and arrested head of the Criminal Justice Unit Karim Ennarah whilst he was on holiday.
The government also arrested founder and journalist Hossam Bahgat and EIPR researcher Patrick Zaki when he was returning home from Italy to visit his family.
UN Special Rapporteur Mary Lawlor’s communication raised the issue of pending charges against Zaki, who has written about the discrimination faced by Copts in the country and was held incommunicado, beaten and tortured by electric shock.
In December, Zaki was released from prison after 22 months in pretrial detention but must stand trial again in June on charges of “spreading false news inside Egypt and abroad” and the “misuse of social media.”
Zaki will be tried at the Emergency State Security Misdemeanours Court, even though such courts were dissolved along with the state of emergency in October 2021.
Egyptian authorities have said that individuals referred to the ESSC before the state of emergency was dissolved will still have their cases tried there, despite criticism by rights watchdogs.
Lawlor also raised the issue of the travel bans, asset freezes and pending charges against Gasser Abdel Razek, Karim Ennarah and EIPR administrative manager Mohamed Basheer.
Bashir was arrested in November 2020 and questioned about a meeting held earlier that month in which 13 foreign ambassadors and diplomats discussed human rights. Razek and Ennarah were also arrested after this meeting.
All three have since been released but the charges against them have not been dropped. Zaki, Razek, Ennarah and Basheer have all been accused of terror-related crimes.
There is also a travel ban and asset freeze against Hossam Baghat who has a criminal case against him over foreign funding received by Egyptian human rights organisations, known as Case 173.
Case 173 dates back to December 2011 when security services raided the headquarters of several NGOs and accused them of creating a foreign plot to destabilise Egypt and receiving foreign funds without approval.
Lawlor’s communication expressed “serious concern as to the criminalisation of legitimate human rights activities” carried out by EIPR staff.
“We reiterate our concern about the vagueness of the counterterrorism and national security legislation in Egypt. We note with concern that this legislation is being misused to target, inter alia, human rights defenders critical to the government.”