WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) strongly condemns the Egyptian government’s arrest of Mohamed Basheer, Administrative Manager of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), and urges his and Coptic activist Ramy Kamel’s unconditional and immediate release.
USCIRF Vice Chair Tony Perkins said, “USCIRF calls on the Egyptian government to immediately release Mr. Basheer and Mr. Kamel from detention and dismiss all charges against them. While Egypt’s recent initiatives to promote interfaith tolerance, protect religious heritage sites, and legalize hundreds of churches deserve support and encouragement, we cannot stand idly by while it continues to harshly punish honorable advocates for religious freedom and broader human rights.”
Security officials reportedly detained Mr. Basheer for extended questioning on November 15, before remanding him to pre-trial detention on spurious charges of spreading false information, as well as joining and funding a terrorist organization. His interrogators reportedly focused their interrogation on a November 3 event in which EIPR staff spoke to a group of European diplomats about civil society in Egypt. Mr. Basheer’s arrest bears striking and disturbing resemblance to the November 23, 2019 arrest of Coptic activist Ramy Kamel, a founder of the Maspero Youth Union. Egyptian State Security arrested Mr. Kamel one day before he was expected to travel to Geneva, Switzerland to testify at the United Nations Forum on Minority Issues. He has remained in perpetual pre-trial detention for the last year. He has spent much of that time in solitary confinement and declining health.
USCIRF Commissioner Frederick Davie added, “If Egypt is serious about its religious freedom reforms and confident in its direction, it should encourage and incorporate the vital work of these individuals and their organizations rather than imprison them on unsubstantiated charges.” He continued, “While Egypt is a vital partner of the United States, it is long past time that the U.S. government unequivocally and uniformly call out Egypt for this destructive crackdown on civil society, which impedes and undercuts the important progress that the Egyptian government has made on religious freedom in recent years.”
In its 2020 Annual Report, USCIRF found that although Egypt showed some promising signs of progress in religious freedom conditions, including a decline in incidents of violence against religious minorities and their places of worship, systematic and ongoing violations continued in other areas warranting placement on the State Department’s Special Watch List.