Relatives of three jailed Egyptian activists desperate to ‘save their lives’


Relatives and colleagues of three recently detained staffers of Egypt’s most prominent human rights group said they are working on “saving their lives”. Gasser Abdel-Razek, Karim Ennarah and Mohammed Basheer of Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) have been denied family visits and are likely being held in freezing solitary confinement cells without adequate food.

The jailed activists were arrested after meeting with a dozen diplomats, including the UK’s deputy head of mission, about the situation in Egypt in the past week.

The arrests ignited international uproar with condemnation coming from the UK Foreign Office, the US Department of State, the European Union and the United Nations.

Hossam Bahgat, the acting chief of EIPR told The Independent his team has had to urgently shift its focus from demanding the speedy release of the trio to the immediate concerns for their health.

The detainees are being held in inhumane conditions in Cairo’s notorious Tora prison and their families have been denied customary visits and phone calls as well as the right to deliver food, clothing or bedding to their imprisoned relatives.

“We’re really worried they haven’t been seen or heard from since they arrived in Tora prison. We are equally worried for Gasser. Even though his lawyers got to see him, his wife went to prison to see him and give him warm clothes, and was denied the visit,” said Mr. Bahgat.

“We need to make sure they don’t get pneumonia or a chest infection during a pandemic in cold weather in a notorious prison with little to no medical care for prisoners,” continued Mr. Bahgat.

Rights groups, including EIPR, have repeatedly raised the alarm over the lack of due process in Egypt’s legal system and its squalid prisons, which are often overcrowded. Many have documented rampant abuse and even torture, accusations the state has denied.

In the UK, Mr. Ennarah’s British wife and documentary filmmaker, Jess Kelly, said she has had no contact with her husband since he was arrested, which she described as a “hostage-taking situation.”

She was extremely concerned he too was being held in solitary confinement and poorly treated.

On Monday, Gasser Abdel-Razek appeared for a prosecution hearing in poor state after his head was forcibly shaven and he had been held in solitary. The two other staffers never appeared and they have had no contact with the outside world.

Late Wednesday, 37 senators and members of congress penned a letter to President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi urging him to unconditionally release the trio, highlighting the poor conditions of detention.

Egypt has launched a furious crackdown against civil society since the 2013 military coup, which saw then army chief Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi oust Egypt’s unpopular but first democratically elected president Mohamed Morsi.

In the aftermath, hundreds of Muslim brotherhood supporters were killed in raids on protests and tens of thousands of secular and Islamist dissidents have been jailed. Multiple human rights organisations and unlicensed protests were banned.

EIPR, which regularly reports on inhumane conditions in prison, had already been targeted.

The Egyptian government has rejected criticism, with the foreign ministry on Saturday released a statement denouncing what it called “interference” in the legal proceedings.  Mr. Sisi has repeatedly said there are no political prisoners in Egypt. (Source: The Independent UK)