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The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Egypt orders release of rights activists after global pressure

An international campaign drawing in celebrities and politicians urged Cairo to release the activists [EIPR]

Date of publication: 4 December, 2020

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A security and juridical source told AFP that three staff of a high-profile Egyptian rights group were ordered released by the country's public prosecution.

Egypt's public prosecution ordered Thursday the release of three staff from a leading human rights organisation following a concerted international campaign to free them.

A security and judicial source told AFP of the order, before the affected organisation, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, confirmed the news on Twitter, noting "our defense team is still confirming details and procedures of their release".

Last month authorities arrested three EIPR staff members on charges of "joining a terror group" and "spreading false news" after a public meeting with foreign ambassadors on November 3.

Executive director Gasser Abdel-Razek, senior researcher Karim Ennarah and office manager Mohamed Basheer - all detained within the same week but days apart - had been kept in pre-trial detention.

"After the submission of the necessary legal paperwork of registering the group as a non-profit organisation, the public prosecution has ordered the release of Gasser Abdel-Razek and members of the Initiative," said a brief statement sent to AFP by a security and judicial source.

A fourth staff member, Patrick Zaky, was detained in February while on a visit to Cairo from Bologna where he was completing a master's degree.

It is unclear whether he will also be released, the sources said.

A new law regulating the work of civil society organisations was recently approved by the cabinet, after the arrests drew global condemnation including from allies such as Germany and France.

An international campaign drawing in celebrities and politicians urged Cairo to release the activists.

Actresses Scarlett Johansson and Emma Thompson as well as British comedian Stephen Fry lent their support.

Read more: Hollywood actress Scarlett Johansson urges Egypt to release rights group's members

The United Nations urged Egypt to release the activists while the US State Department under outgoing President Donald Trump said it was "deeply concerned".

Antony Blinken, US President-elect Joe Biden's nominee for Secretary of State, tweeted last month "meeting with foreign diplomats is not a crime. Nor is peacefully advocating for human rights".

Rights groups estimate that about 60,000 detainees in Egypt are political prisoners.

Prisoners include secular activists, journalists, lawyers, academics and Islamists arrested in an ongoing sweeping crackdown on dissent under President Abdel Fattah-al Sisi

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