Mohamed Zaree, facing life imprisonment in Egypt, wins Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders

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The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) proudly announces that the director of its Egypt office, Mohamed Zaree, is the recipient of the 2017 Martin Ennals Award, a prestigious international award for human rights defenders from the Martin Ennals Foundation.  The award is dedicated to prominent human rights defenders who face great personal risks and dangers. Zaree emphasized that he viewed this honor not as a recognition of his work alone, but as a “recognition of the tens of thousands of Egyptian citizens who have been tortured, imprisoned, disappeared or killed over the last 6 years. Killed for nothing more than standing up to corruption and tyranny through peaceful means.”

Zaree was one of three finalists, along with Karla Avelar (El Salvador) and Free the 5 Defenders (Cambodia), selected in April from among hundreds of human rights defenders around the world. Today, October 10, 2017, at the awards ceremony in Geneva, Switzerland, the panel of ten judges representing major human rights organizations around the world,[1] announced it had chosen Zaree as this year’s laureate. Zaree could not attend the ceremony due to a travel ban from the Egyptian authorities.

The award was granted in recognition of Zaree’s leading role in advocating for the freedom of association and expression and his coordination of joint action among independent Egyptian rights organizations. Zaree risks life imprisonment and has been banned from travel, while the assets of the his Egypt office as well as those of CIHRS director Bahey eldin Hassan  have been frozen. Kate Gilmore, the UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, gave the award to Zaree’s family, who accepted it on his behalf.

CIHRS views this honor as a recognition of every member of the Egyptian rights movement, at home or abroad, who uphold and defend human rights principles in the shadow of an authoritarian  regime that, as noted by Zaree in his speech, is perpetuating “a systematic campaign to eradicate of one of the most dynamic human rights communities in the world.” Coming at this critical juncture, the award sends a resounding message to the world about the need to stand against the wide-scale human rights abuses perpetrated by the Egyptian state under the helm of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi over the last four years. These grave human rights violations contradict the spirit and letter of international conventions ratified by Egypt, as well as the Egyptian Constitution, approved by a majority of Egyptians.

In his speech at today’s ceremony, presented remotely from his home in Cairo, Zaree saluted all Egyptian human rights defenders, who “in the midst of unprecedented repression…steadfastly endure in their struggle for freedom and dignity. They persevere in the face of constant attacks against them, including defamation campaigns, travel bans, asset freezes, torture, enforced disappearance, and the imminent threat of life imprisonment.”

Zaree has been banned from leaving Egypt since May 2015, pursuant to an order issued by the investigative judge in the Foreign Funding Case (173/2011). A letter from the Martin Ennals Foundation urging President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to lift  the travel ban was ignored, marking the latest in a retributive campaign that has resulted in Zaree facing a series of fraudulent charges carrying a maximum of 30 years imprisonment.

The charges against Zaree include receiving foreign funds with the intent of harming the state’s national security and interests – evidenced, according to the prosecution – by his participation in preparing Egypt’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) before the United Nations Human Rights Council. Paradoxically, Egypt accepted the majority of these UPR recommendations. During his first interrogation in connection with the case in May of this year, Zaree maintained that the greatest threats to national security and interests are the violation of human rights and the suppression of freedoms. He was released on a bail of LE 30,000 while the Egyptian state’s prosecution of him continues.

[1] The panel included representatives from Amnesty International, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Human Rights First, Human Rights Information and Documentation Systems International (HURIDOCS), International Service for Human Rights, Front Line Defenders, Human Rights Watch, International Commission of Jurists, Bread for the World (BROT, Germany), and the World Organization Against Torture,

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