Statement by the Committee on Human Rights and Humanitarian Aid regarding the Egyptian Government’s actions against the human rights organisation Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR).
Mohamed Basheer, Karim Ennarah and Gasser Abdel-Razek, who work for EIPR, were detained by state security forces shortly after a meeting between EIPR representatives and high-ranking Western diplomats on 3 November 2020 to discuss the human rights situation in Egypt. It was only thanks to concerted intervention on the part of the international community that the three detainees were released from custody on the evening of 3 December.
The criminal charges brought against the three activists, which have been upheld nonetheless, are joining a terrorist organisation and disseminating false information. Furthermore, EIPR co-founder Hossam Bahgat is under surveillance and has received threats from security authorities after temporarily resuming leadership of the organisation following the detention of its leaders. In addition, the private accounts of the three employees were frozen by the courts shortly after their release.
EIPR is a long-standing and respected human rights organisation in Egypt. The employees’ arrest took place shortly after a meeting attended by, among others, the German Ambassador in Cairo. Those involved reported that they were questioned specifically about their meeting with the ambassadors. During their detention, they were, at times, denied access to food and warm clothing.
The Committee on Human Rights and Humanitarian Aid of the German Bundestag is outraged by the detention and the filing of charges against the three human rights defenders, as well as by the fact that the security authorities have targeted the co-founder of the organisation. We consider the actions taken by the state to be an attack on both Egyptian civil society and the work of Germany’s mission abroad in Egypt. Diplomats must be able to hold meetings with civil society representatives without the latter having to fear reprisals from the state. As Members of Parliament, we depend on the information provided by our Embassy when making our decisions. As such, this attack also affects us as parliamentarians. These detentions are putting the German-Egyptian partnership under severe strain.
In addition, the Committee is appalled that the organisation’s work is being hampered as it was forced to register as a non-governmental organisation in accordance with Egypt’s „civil society organisation“ (NGO) law. Organisations registered under this law are only allowed to operate in very narrowly defined areas. Experience has shown that such registration processes often drag on for years or remain in an endless state of limbo, exposing the organisations to constant legal challenges. Even civil society activities on the part of registered organisations can be banned by the government at any time on the basis of extremely vague legal formulations, under the pretext that they endanger „national security, public order and public morals“. Irrespective of the NGO law, civil society work in Egypt, and thus the work of EIPR, is hamstrung as a consequence of vaguely worded provisions in media, cybercrime and anti-terrorism legislation. A strong and free civil society is vital to ensuring that human rights are upheld. The Committee condemns the shrinking scope of civil society in Egypt as well as the disproportionate restrictions to the work of NGOs and human rights defenders in the country.
As a result of their work as human rights defenders, Mahienour el-Masry, Mohamed el-Baqer, Solafa Magdy and Esraa Abdelfattah, as well as numerous other people, have likewise been detained for months under the pretext of suspected terrorism, among other charges, and have been subjected to systematic torture during their detention.
The Committee on Human Rights and Humanitarian Aid of the German Bundestag calls for the politically motivated criminal charges against Mohamed Basheer, Karim Ennarah and Gasser Abdel-Razek to be dropped and for the surveillance of EIPR founder Hossam Baghat by the authorities to be suspended immediately. Moreover, the freezing of private accounts belonging to EIPR employees must cease immediately and existing travel bans must be lifted. The organisation’s work must no longer be exploited or obstructed.
Furthermore, the human rights defenders Mahienour el-Masry, Mohamed el-Baqer, Solafa Magdy and Esraa Abdelfattah must be released from prison without delay.