Arrest of Egyptian Human Rights Advocates

Jim Shannon Excerpts
Tuesday 8th December 2020

(1 year, 8 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Rushanara Ali Portrait Rushanara Ali (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Lab)
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I rise to speak in support of Karim Ennarah, the husband of my constituent Jessica Kelly. I also want to highlight the widespread human rights abuses under the current Egyptian regime.

Karim Ennarah works for a human rights organisation, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. He holds a master’s degree from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London and was a Chevening scholar. He has lots of UK connections as well as family connections.

Karim Ennarah was arrested on Wednesday 18 November by Egyptian security services at a beach café while he was on a break in Dahab on the Sinai peninsula. His colleague, Mohammed Basheer, was also arrested, on 15 November, and the director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, Gasser Abdel-Razek, was arrested in Cairo on 19 November. This follows an arrest earlier in the year of another of their colleagues.

The three arrests happened following a meeting with EIPR that was initiated by diplomats from Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland, as well as the chargés d’affaires of Canada, Norway and Sweden and the deputy ambassador of the United Kingdom. At that meeting, the diplomats and the EIPR discussed the human rights situation in Egypt.

The arrests of Karim Ennarah and his colleagues were a co-ordinated crackdown on those campaigning for human rights issues. The United Nations human rights agency called the arrests “chilling”. Karim was held without trial in the notorious Tora prison. That is a complex known for the torture of political prisoners, where the cells are designed never to see sunlight. Those who have experienced it tell of cells without beds, the denial of medical attention, floors crawling with insects, and temperatures soaring to unbearable highs before crashing to freezing cold. Political prisoners are routinely starved, beaten and abused.

On 4 December, after a global outcry and pressure on the Egyptian regime, the three were released from prison, but they remain in Egypt under close surveillance and their assets have been frozen by order of the courts. We are yet to hear whether they are being held under any other conditions, as the investigation continues to hang over them. Karim’s wife, Jessica Kelly, with support from campaigners, human rights organisations and nearly 150,000 people who signed a petition, alongside a number of celebrities, has led the global efforts to secure his release and that of his colleagues. She deserves our praise and admiration for her incredible fortitude in such trying circumstances.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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I thank the hon. Lady for bringing this case to the main Chamber for our consideration. Does she agree that we have an obligation to use all diplomatic procedures available to encourage those we have relationships with to treat with basic human rights those who oppose them, and that the message from this House tonight is that the way human rights are handled has a bearing on the strength of our ties with other nations that abuse human rights?

Rushanara Ali Portrait Rushanara Ali
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The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The strength of our partnership should be judged by the ability to provide constructive criticism to Governments who are responsible for human rights violations, and I look forward to hearing from the Minister what work our Government are doing to ensure that the Egyptian Government, as well as other Governments who have been responsible for significant human rights violations, take action to bring an end to such violations.

Karim’s wife, Jessica Kelly, was instrumental in campaigning for her husband’s release and that of his colleagues. We are all relieved to hear about their release, but there are a number of outstanding issues. What matters now is that the Egyptian Government allow Karim to leave the country to come to the UK where he can be reunited with his wife. I would be grateful if the Minister provided an update on whether that will be possible and what action our embassy is taking to enable Karim to be reunited with his wife in the UK.

The men were also accused of having links to terror organisations and of spreading fake news on social media, but let us be crystal clear that they were arrested for shining the spotlight on the human rights abuses of that regime.