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SOAS alumnus and human rights advocate freed from detainment

By Lara Gibbs, BA Chinese (Modern and Classical)

On 18 November, Karim Ennarah was arrested in Dahab, South Sinai, and detained in Tora prison outside of Cairo. Two of his colleagues, Gasser Abdel-Razek and Mohammed Basheer, were also detained. Ennarah was held on charges of joining a terrorist group and spreading false news. After mounting international pressure, Ennarah, Abdel-Razek, and Basheer were freed on 3 December.

A former SOAS Student, Ennarah was working for the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), a human rights group in Egypt. Ennarah was working as EIPR’s head of criminal justice at the time. The EIPR pledge to defend the rights of all Egyptians. For the past 18 years, they claim to have defended the rights of Egyptians against inequality. They aim to document and research incidents of violence and human rights abuses in Egypt.

‘[Jess Kelly] expressed how “life rapidly fell apart” on learning of her husband’s arrest.’

Married in September, Ennarah’s wife Jess Kelly set about campaigning after hearing the news of his arrest. Kelly created a petition reaching over 100,000 signatures, calling on Egyptian authorities to free Ennarah and his colleagues. On 25 November, Jess published an op-ed in the New York Times. She expressed how ‘life rapidly fell apart’ on learning of her husband’s arrest. 

On 2 December, a group of SOAS alumni published a letter to stand in solidarity with Karim and call for his immediate release. The letter was signed by 164 advocates and accused the Egyptian government of violating international human rights law.

Amnesty International has described Egypt’s system of detention as ‘corrosive.’ They express that Egyptian authorities can arrest anyone solely based on the suspicion that they are a threat to public security and order. Amnesty has called on the international community to speak out against Egypt’s action toward human rights organisations. 

Celebrities including actress Scarlett Johansson and Bill Nighy spoke out in solidarity against the arrests. In an EIPR YouTube video, Johansson said ‘I’m in awe of the bravery of these men who continue their work to defend people’s rights at such a great personal cost.’

Many critics have expressed concerns on the cost of human rights since Abdul Fattah al-Sisi took power in 2014. During his election campaign, President Sisi spoke of grand plans to improve the economy and increase employment rates. However, according to the BBC, the standard of living declined for many during his first term. 

It is estimated Egypt’s prisons hold 60,000 political prisoners. Reporters without Borders claimed that over 100 journalists have been arrested or imprisoned since January 2014. Those who oppose President Sisi’s regime run the risk of arrest.

Photo caption: Karim Ennarah at his SOAS graduation with wife, Jess Kelly (Credit: Jess Kelly via the Evening Standard).

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