Egypt prosecutor orders release of jailed human rights defenders
Egypt’s chief prosecutor has ordered the release of three jailed human rights workers, their employer said Thursday, following a campaign to secure their release that included Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and Hollywood actor Scarlett Johansson. Karim Ennarah, Gasser Abdel-Razek and Mohammed Bashir – senior staff members of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) – were arrested last month and ordered into pre-trial detention on suspicion of terrorism amid an ongoing crackdown on dissent in Egpyt. The men could walk free as soon as Thursday night, EIPR said. “Our defence team is still confirming details and procedures of their release,” it said in a tweet. “This is very exciting news,” said Jessica Kelly, the British wife of Mr Ennarah. “I won’t believe it till I hear his voice.” Mr Ennarah, who spent his 37th birthday in prison, had been preparing to move to the UK ahead of his arrest as his environment in Egypt became increasingly hostile, Ms Kelly said. EIPR said the trigger for arrest of its staff had been meeting the group held on November 3 to discuss Egypt’s rights record with European ambassadors and diplomats that included UK Deputy Ambassador Neerav Patel. The arrests prompted widespread condemnation globally, including from the United Nations. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab raised his concerns about the arrests with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry, the Foreign Office said last month. On Tuesday, American actress Johansson released a video calling for the men’s release. “I’m in awe of the bravery of these men who continue their work to defend human rights at such a great personal cost,” she said. Egyptian newspaper Al Dostor reported that while the men would be released, the charges against them had not been dropped. Since coming to power in a military coup in 2013, the government of President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi has suppressed dissent by arresting tens of thousands of opponents including Islamists, civil society figures, activists, commentators and critics. The EIPR is the most prominent of the few independent local rights groups still operating in the country. It has produced reports on prison conditions, the use of force by security forces in response to protests, and recently on the increasing use of capital punishment.