The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights said Friday the arrest of three of its leading staff this week was a "clear and coordinated attack" on the group's activism and monitoring of conditions in prisons and the "unprecedented surge in the issuance and execution of death sentences."
The human rights group said in a statement on its website that the arrests were an attempt to hobble the initiative's work "monitoring and documenting incidents of sectarian violence and discrimination against women and all individuals and groups that differ from...accepted religious views or sexual orientations and practices as well as its pioneering research work on strengthening economic and social rights."
"In other words, the initiative is being targeted as a result of its efforts to defend the basic rights of Egyptians that are guaranteed by the constitution and by international treaties ratified by successive Egyptian governments," the statement said.
On Thursday, the initiative's executive director Gasser Abdel-Razek was taken from his home in Maadi, a suburb in Cairo. The initiative said that it does not know the whereabouts of its members as they were taken to an unknown location
Authorities also arrested the group's criminal justice department head, Karim Ennarah, on Wednesday while he was on vacation in Dahab in Southern Sinai. Security forces arrested the group's administrative manager, Mohamed Basheer, from his home over the weekend.
The initiative said on social media the arrests may have something to do with the staff's meeting with Western ambassadors in Cairo. Earlier in the month, the three employees had met with ambassadors from Germany, France, Spain, Denmark, Finland, Switzerland and Italy. They also met with diplomats from the UK and Canada to discuss human rights issues in Egypt.
The initiative has recently become one of the main targets of the Egyptian government as it escalates its advocacy for citizens' personal and religious rights. The group has also been vocal about its opposition to the country's death penalty and human rights abuses within its prisons.
In recent years, Egypt has been tightening its restrictions to curb the activities of nongovernment organizations and international news media. The government has continued its practice of imprisoning dissidents, journalists, activists and human rights defenders.
Amnesty International said that the arrests were a big blow against the "legitimate work" of human rights groups in Egypt. The group added that the charges brought against the EIPR employees were nothing more than "bogus terrorism" allegations.
The French foreign ministry criticized Egypt saying it was deeply concerned over the recent arrests. It added that it intended to continue pursuing talks with Egypt over human rights.
Egypt's foreign ministry said France's statements were an interference in its domestic affairs.