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UN echoes calls for Egypt to release human rights activists

The United Nations has urged Egypt to release three members of an activist group arrested within days of each other as international pressure abounds. 

Security forces arrested Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) office manager Mohamed Basheer on Sunday, Karim Ennarah on Wednesday, and executive director Gasser Abdel-Razek on Thursday. 

The call came on Friday as the EIPR was targeted after several ambassadors and diplomats visited its Cairo office on November 3. 

The detainees were held on charges including “joining a terror group” and “spreading false news”, said the EIPR. 

“The arrests of three human rights defenders in Egypt this week is a very worrying development that underscores the extreme vulnerability of civil society activists,” the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said in a statement.

“We are very concerned that the targeting of human rights defenders and other activists … are having a profound chilling effect on an already weakened Egyptian civil society,” added spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani.

“This is a test for the international community,” said Philip Luther, the watchdog’s Middle East and North Africa research and advocacy director.

Rights groups estimate that some 60,000 detainees in Egypt are political prisoners. These include activists, journalists, lawyers, and academics arrested in a crackdown on dissent under President el-Sisi. 

There have been no immediate reactions from Egypt. 

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