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Egyptian rights group says jailed director is in ‘danger’ from inhumane treatment

The arrest of EIPR staff has triggered rare western condemnation of the Sisi government's crackdown on human rights
Gasser Abdelrazek was detained on 19 November, a few days after two of his colleagues were arrested over a human rights seminar their organisation held with western diplomats (EIPR)

A leading Egyptian rights group, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), said on Monday that its recently detained director Gasser Abdelrazek was “in danger” due to poor conditions in jail. 

Abdelrazek was detained on 19 November, a few days after the arrest of two of his colleagues following a human rights seminar their organisation held with western diplomats.

According to EIPR, Abdelrazek's lawyers were first able to see him on Monday. The organisation quoted him as saying that “he received inhumane and degrading treatment in his cell that puts his health and safety in danger” during interrogation.

“He further elaborated that he was never allowed out of the cell, had only a metal bed to sleep on with neither mattress nor covers save for a light blanket, was deprived of all his possessions and money, was given only two light pieces of summer garments, and was denied the right to use his own money to purchase food and essentials  from the prison’s cantine. His head was shaved completely,” EIPR said in a statement.

Negad el-Borai, one of the lawyers on Abdelrazek's defence team, said his client was held in solitary confinement, and was denied winter clothes in custody.

Translation: I just returned from an interrogation session with Mr Gasser Abdelrazek... Gasser came to the session wearing a shirt and trousers made of a light damask fabric that does not deter the winter cold... In the cold of November, they gave him clothes suitable for the August heat.

Abdelrazek was summoned on Monday by the Supreme State Security Prosecution to resume interrogation on charges of “joining a terrorist organisation with prior knowledge of its objective” and “using social media accounts to spread false information that may harm public peace”. 

EIPR administrative manager Mohamed Basheer and director of criminal justice Karim Ennarah were also detained following a meeting the EIPR hosted at its Cairo office on 3 November to discuss human rights in the country.

Diplomats from ten European countries - the UK, Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland - were at the meeting.

Abdelrazek told Mada Masr before his arrest that the crackdown was in direct response to the group's meeting with the diplomats, and that he was shocked Egyptian authorities "would feel threatened by a meeting with ambassadors".

While no evidence was cited by the prosecution to support the charges, the three were looped into a case in which several other human rights advocates are being tried, including lawyers Mohamed el-Baqer and Mahinour el-Masry, journalist Islam Mohamed and political science professor Hazem Hosny.

International condemnation

Egyptian authorities are accused of detaining more than 60,000 political prisoners since President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi ousted his democratically elected predecessor Mohamed Morsi in a 2013 military coup. 

Many of those detained include government critics and civil society workers, who have been increasingly targeted since a controversial NGO law was ratified by Sisi in 2017. The law was criticised by civil society activists as “the worst in history”. 

This isn't the first time EIPR has been among the victims of the Sisi government's crackdown on rights organisations. In 2016, its founder, Hossam Bahgat, was banned from travel and had his financial assets frozen over his work.

In February, Patrick George Zaky, a researcher for EIPR, was detained, tortured, and later faced charges of "calling for protests without permission," "spreading false news," and "inciting violence and terrorism".

Several European countries, the United States and UN have condemned the recent arrests.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has personally intervened over the case of the three human rights activists, Middle East Eye has learned.

Antony Blinken, US President-elect Joe Biden's foreign policy advisor, tweeted Friday: "Meeting with foreign diplomats is not a crime. Nor is peacefully advocating for human rights."

Former US presidential candidate Bernie Sanders also weighed in, saying the arrests were "an outrage".

"The incoming administration must make it clear to Egypt and all countries that, once again, the United States will support democracy, not dictatorship," he tweeted.

Egypt's foreign ministry dismissed the international criticism as foreign meddling. 

Ahmed Hafez, the ministry's spokesman, said his government "rejects any attempt to affect the investigations conducted by the public prosecution with Egyptian citizens who have charges levelled against them. 

"National sovereignty must be respected as well as not meddling in domestic affairs."