Egypt rights group says second staff member arrested

Human rights groups slam ‘outrageous’ detention of Karim Ennarah, director of criminal justice at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.

In this Aug. 22, 2015 file photo, a Muslim Brotherhood member waves his hand from a defendants cage in a courtroom in Torah prison, southern Cairo, Egypt. Amnesty International said Wednesday, July 31
Rights groups estimate that some 60,000 detainees in Egypt are political prisoners [File: Amr Nabil/AP Photo]

A prominent Egyptian human rights group has said security officers arrested a second staff member, just days after its office manager was also detained.

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) said on Wednesday Karim Ennarah, the organisation’s director of criminal justice, was “arrested while on vacation in Dahab, South Sinai”.

“He has been escorted by National Security officers to an undisclosed location around 2 p.m. today,” it added on Twitter.

EIPR did not mention any possible accusations against Ennarah.

Amnesty International denounced Ennarah’s “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, security forces arrested the organisation’s office manager, Mohammed Basheer, on charges including “joining a terror group” and “spreading false news”.

EIPR said Basheer was questioned by the Supreme State Security Prosecution (SSSP) about the organisation’s work and a visit earlier this month to its Cairo office “by a number of ambassadors and diplomats” to discuss human rights.

Basheer was placed in pre-trial detention for 15 days and will be questioned at a later date, EIPR said, calling for his immediate release.

Pre-trial detention can last up to two years under Egyptian law, but the period is often extended. Al Jazeera journalist Mahmoud Hussein has been imprisoned for more than 1,420 days after his arrest in December 2016 while on a personal visit to Egypt to see his family.

There was no comment by the authorities on the two arrests of the EIPR staff.

Rights activists say President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has overseen an unprecedented crackdown on freedoms in Egypt since first taking power in 2013 and then winning elections in 2014. El-Sisi and his backers say the measures are needed to keep Egypt stable and counter threats from armed groups.

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

These include secular activists, journalists, lawyers, academics and political opponents arrested in a sweeping crackdown on dissent under el-Sisi.