Egypt bans prominent human rights activist from receiving award
An Egyptian has been honoured with one of the most prestigious awards granted to human rights defenders but was unable to accept the prize in person because his government has banned him from travel over his work documenting abuses.
Mohammed Zaree is one of several notable Egyptian activists and human rights workers who are banned from travel over allegations of harming national security, part of a wide-scale crackdown on dissent.
The Martin Ennals award is given out by ten of the world’s leading human rights organisations - including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch - to recognise outstanding work done at great personal risk. Zaree's wife and daughters accepted it on his behalf at the ceremony in Geneva.
Zaree said he hopes the award will offer some protection to him and other members of Egypt's dwindling human rights community, nearly all of whom face prosecution under sweeping laws targeting those accused of "undermining national unity".
"We are all banned from travelling, and some have had their bank accounts frozen," he told AP. "There is a danger for myself and my colleagues, but I believe the biggest danger is when the victims of human rights violations are denied their last hope."
Zaree, 37, leads activities in Egypt for the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, which focuses on the Arab world. The group moved its base to Tunisia in 2014 after Egypt unleashed a wave of repression against such organisations following the military overthrow of an elected Islamist president the previous year.
The group has handled high-profile cases, including that of Egyptian-American charity worker Aya Hijazi, who had established a foundation to aid street children in 2013 and was jailed on charges of child abuse that were dismissed as bogus by human rights groups. She was released and allowed to return to the US earlier this year after nearly three years in prison.
The award, named after a former head of UK-based Amnesty, is among the most prestigious in the field. The other finalists were El Salvador transgender woman and activist Karla Avelar, and the FreeThe5KH group - five human rights defenders who were recently released after more than a year in pre-trial detention in Cambodia.
In Geneva, award founder Hans Thoolen celebrated Zaree's "heroic" behaviour in "holding the fort" nearly alone amid the crackdown on human rights organisations.