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Persecuted Egyptian activist wins human rights award

Persecuted Egyptian activist wins human rights award©©Mohamed Zaree, representative of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, faces a possible 30 years in jail
2 min 10Approximate reading time

Egyptian Mohamed Zaree on Tuesday received in Geneva the prestigious Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders. The award honours his commitment despite personal risk. It also serves as a protest against the Egyptian President, whose repressive tactics know no bounds according to the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), of which Zaree is Egypt Country Director.  

Mohamed Zaree was unable to travel to Geneva to receive the Martin Ennals Award because of a travel ban as he faces judicial investigations and the prospect of a possible 30-year prison sentence. His “crime” is a ceaseless commitment to the freedoms considered by the regime of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as a threat to State security. 

“During his first two interrogations he was even accused for collaborating with the Human Rights Council and its main mechanism, the universal periodic review,” says Bahey El Din Hassan, General Director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, who moved to Tunis in 2014 following death threats. This did not stop Egypt being elected in 2016 as a member of the Human Rights Council, the UN’s main body for promoting and defending human rights.  

"The worst of all Egyptian presidents"

“The situation in Egypt is unprecedented in terms of murders, torture, forced disappearances and repression of the media, Bahey El Din Hassan continues. “President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi surpasses all his predecessors in terms of repression. He is targeting not only the Islamists but all civil society and spaces for freedom. The Jihadist organizations that are currently stepping up their presence in Egypt couldn’t hope for more.”

The Martin Ennals Award is the main award for human rights defenders, honouring an individual or an organization for their commitment to defending freedom in the face of threats to themselves. Its jury is composed of leading international human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Commission of Jurists. The award is also a mark of solidarity with activists who are especially endangered. In the case of Egypt, this denunciation of its record contrasts with the reluctance of Western governments to react in the face of sharply deteriorating human rights under Al-Sisi. But “the silence of the international community is viewed as a green light by authoritarian regimes,” says Hans Thoolen, founder of the Martin Ennals Award.

Cambodian and Salvadorian human rights defenders honoured

“Western countries are giving less support to human rights defenders than a few years ago, whilst authoritarian States are learning from each other and honing their repressive tactics,” Thoolen continues. The Martin Ennals Foundation also nominated five Cambodian human rights defenders who were recently freed after 427 of provisional detention and are awaiting trial, as the Phnom Penh government ramps up pressure on any perceived threat to the ruling party in the run-up to next year’s legislative elections.

The Foundation also nominated Karla Avelar, a transgender woman from El Salvador who co-founded her country’s first transgender association. She has been persecuted by gang members, police officers and the judicial authorities.

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