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London wife of human rights activist tells of pain over his detention in Cairo’s notorious ‘Scorpion’ jail



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he London wife of a human rights campaigner told how she collapsed in the street when she heard he had been detained in Egypt on terrorism charges.

Karim Ennarah had been planning to move to the UK to escape the regime of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.

Mr Ennarah, who works for the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, was arrested while on holiday in the Sinai resort town of Dahab earlier this month.

Jessica Kelly, 32, from east London, told the Standard: “I called his phone, a colleague answered. I asked, ‘How’s it going?’ and she said, ‘Not good, Karim was taken and we’re just heading to the police station to find out what’s happened’.

“I sort of collapsed in the street. It became a crushing reality.”

An online petition demanding the release of Mr Ennarah, who turned 38 today, has reached more than 125,000 signatures. 

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More than 100,000 people have signed a petition calling for Mr Ennarah’s release

/ Jessica Kelly )

Ms Kelly who married Mr Ennarah in September, said his spousal visa was being processed before he was due to fly to London by February.

The film director added: “People really don’t appreciate how hostile it is in Egypt for anyone working in journalism, human rights or for anyone who has a different opinion to the regime.

“This is just the kind of human rights abuse Karim works on. He shouldn’t be punished for doing his job.  

“I want to know why he’s been arrested and what the Egyptian state’s intentions are.”  

Mr Ennarah, who completed a master’s degree at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London in 2016, was detained on November 18, two days after his mother’s home in Cairo was raided. 

We’ve heard one of his arrested colleagues is being kept in freezing conditions and sleeping on a metal bed without a mattress. Nobody has seen Karim so we don’t know if he is suffering the same fate

Two other colleagues from the EIPR were also arrested, including Gasser Abdel-Razek, the group’s executive director.

All are behind bars at Cairo’s Torah maximum security prison, nicknamed “the Scorpion” where they can be held on remand for up to two years.

Inmates are often left without beds, mattresses, basic hygienic, humiliated and beaten, according to human rights lawyers.

Ms Kelly added: “Nobody is allowed to see him apart from his lawyer who is unable to be present when he is interrogated.

“I tried to send a message to Karim through the lawyer but they didn’t have time to read it to him.

“We’ve heard one of his arrested colleagues is being kept in freezing conditions and sleeping on a metal bed without a mattress. Nobody has seen Karim so we don’t know if he is suffering the same fate.” 

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Security forces have recently intensified a crackdown on human rights groups which began when former army chief el-Sisi took power in a 2013 military coup.

Ms Kelly is hoping Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and US President-elect Joe Biden can put international pressure on Egypt to release the three detainees.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: “The UK is deeply concerned about the arrest of three staff members from the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights – executive director Gasser Abdel Razek, and employees Mohammed Basheer and Karim Ennarah.

“We have been in regular contact with the Egyptian authorities since the arrests took place, and the Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has raised the issue directly with his Egyptian counterpart.

“We are working closely with partners in the international community who share our concerns.

“All human rights defenders should be able to work without fear of arrest or reprisals.”