By Lisa Vives
“Meeting with foreign diplomats is not a crime. Nor is peacefully advocating for human rights.” Those were the first words of Antony Blinken as he steps up to the plate and assumes the position of foreign policy adviser to President-elect Joe Biden.
Blinken joins prominent leaders in the human rights community coming to the defence of three domestic rights activists who met with Western diplomats for a briefing on November 3.
On November 19, Egyptian Security Forces arrested Gasser Abdel-Razek, executive director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) from his home in Maadi, a suburb of Cairo. Egyptian security forces detained two other EIPR employees.
Karim Ennarah, the head of the group’s criminal justice department, was arrested November 18. His whereabouts and the charges he faces are unknown.
The activists were ordered detained for 15 days on charges of joining a terrorist group and spreading fake news, in what critics see as the latest escalation of an unprecedented clampdown on civil society and political dissent.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s attacks on free speech and political dissent were largely ignored by the outgoing administration of Donald Trump. But as a new broom sweeps clean, the Biden administration appears likely to end the impunity enjoyed by authoritarians, dictators, and similar tyrants. In a tweet last July about al-Sissi he commented: “NO MORE blank checks for Trump’s ‘favourite dictator’.”!
EIPR advocates for personal and religious rights, against the death penalty and publishes investigations into violations in prisons and human rights abuses in general.
“These arrests, the smear campaign against the organization and the government’s baseless claim that EIPR operates illegally, show that this is a well-planned and concerted attack,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Research and Advocacy Director.
“Accusing the staff of ‘joining a terrorist group’ is an assault on the organization and the human rights values it represents.”
Bärbel Kofler, the human rights commissioner for Germany’s foreign ministry, said she was “appalled” by the arrests.
In recent years the government has imprisoned and restricted the travel of thousands of dissidents, political activists, journalists, protesters and human rights defenders.