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Egypt arrests another rights activist after meeting with Western diplomats

Karim Ennarah was detained in the resort town of Dahab in South Sinai while on vacation, EIPR said in a statement
Some 60,000 detainees in Egypt are political prisoners, according to an estimate by Human Rights Watch.
Some 60,000 detainees in Egypt are political prisoners, according to an estimate by Human Rights Watch (AFP/File photo)

Egyptian authorities arrested a human rights defender on Wednesday, just a few days after his colleague was also detained, following a meeting with Western diplomats, his organisation said.

Karim Ennarah, the director of criminal justice at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), was detained in the resort town of Dahab in South Sinai while on vacation, the organisation said on Twitter.

"He has been escorted by National Security officers to an undisclosed location around 2 p.m. today," the organisation said, not mentioning any reasons for his arrest or allegations made against him.

Amnesty International denounced the "outrageous" arrest as a "chilling escalation of the Egyptian authorities' crackdown on civil society".

"These arrests, following a meeting at EIPR with Western diplomats, serve a heavy blow against the legitimate work of human rights defenders," Amnesty said on Twitter.

On Sunday, Egyptian security forces arrested EIPR's office manager, Mohammed Basheer, on charges including "joining a terror group" and "spreading false news".

The advocacy group said he was questioned by the Supreme State Security Prosecution (SSSP) about EIPR's work, including a meeting it hosted at its Cairo office on 3 November to discuss human rights in the country with diplomats from Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland.

The UK's ambassador to Egypt was also present at the meeting, according to EIPR.

EIPR executive director Gasser Abdel Razek said the arrest was in direct response to the group's meeting with the diplomats and told Mada Masr he was shocked that Egyptian authorities "would feel threatened by a meeting with ambassadors".

'Slap in the face'

Amr Magdi, Egypt researcher for Human Rights Watch, told The Telegraph that the arrests were "a slap in the face from the Egyptian government to all these diplomats and European countries who attended this meeting".

"They are saying 'we don't care, you cannot protect anyone, and we can arrest anyone, including those who are well recognised human rights defenders'," he said.

Magdi said on Twitter that the arrests were orchestrated by the highest levels of the Egyptian state, implicating Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi himself. He also told the Egyptian media outlet that he feared additional arrests.

Egypt: Human rights worker arrested after meeting with European diplomats
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EIPR has called for Basheer's immediate release, after he was placed in pre-trial detention for 15 days.

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

The latest arrests are seen as being part of a larger crackdown on freedoms by Sisi's government since he first taking power in 2013 through a coup d'etat.

Some 60,000 detainees in Egypt are political prisoners, according to an estimate by Human Rights Watch, including activists, journalists, lawyers and academics.

Sisi has denied holding political prisoners in the country, and Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry also doubled down last week, saying "there is no arbitrary detention, there is only detention according to the law".

Last month, more than 200 European lawmakers denounced Sisi's continued human rights abuses in a letter to the Egyptian president, saying the abuses were a threat to Cairo's security and stability.