2017 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders goes to Egyptian activist Mohamed Zaree

Selected by a jury of 10 global human rights organizations, including the ICJ, Mohamed Zaree is a devoted human rights activist and legal scholar whose work focuses on human rights advocacy around freedom of expression and association.

Mohamed Zaree is also known for his role as the Egypt Country Director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), which works throughout the Arabic speaking world.

He assumed this role after government pressure on CIHRS prompted them to relocate their headquarters to Tunis in 2014.

The Egyptian government has been escalating its pressure on the human rights movement.

Human rights NGOs and defenders are confronted with a growing wave of threats, harassment, and intimidation, legal and otherwise.

Despite this, Mohamed Zaree is leading CIHRS’ research, human rights education, and national advocacy initiatives in Egypt and is shaping the media debate on human rights issues.

During this critical period for civil society, he is also leading the Forum of Independent Egyptian Human Rights NGOs, a network aiming to unify human rights groups in advocacy.

Zaree’s initiatives have helped NGOs to develop common approaches to human rights issues in Egypt.

Within the context of the renewed crackdown on Egyptian human rights organizations, he has become a leading figure in Egypt’s human rights movement.

He is currently facing investigation under the “Foreign Funding Case” and is at high risk of prosecution and life imprisonment. The “Foreign Funding Case” highly restricts NGO activities.

Despite this, Mohammed Zaree continues to engage the authorities in dialogue wherever possible, arguing that respect for human rights will increase stability in Egypt.

He has been under a travel ban since May 2016 but remains present and active in Egypt and represents CIHRS inside the country.

“Mohamed Zaree is a leading voice for justice in Egypt. Honoring him with the Martin Ennals Award is a recognition of the courageous and tireless work done by Egyptian human rights defenders, individuals and NGOs, in their fight against all forms of intimidation, harassment and repression waged by the Egyptian military and government against them,” said Said Benarbia, Director of the ICJ Middle East and North Africa Programme.

FreeThe5KH (Cambodia) and Karla Avelar, the two other finalists, received Martin Ennals Prizes.

FreeThe5KH are five Human Rights Defenders who were recently released after 427 days of pre-trial detention.

They are awaiting trial and are banned from travel.

There were widespread international calls for their unconditional release, and a stop to judicial harassment of human rights defenders in Cambodia.

This comes in the context of an increasingly severe crackdown on civil society and the political opposition in Cambodia.

Karla Avelar, a transgender woman in El Salvador, founded the country’s first organization of transgender women – COMCAVIS TRANS.

She grew up on the streets, suffering discrimination, violence, sexual exploitation, rape, and attempted murder.

She works to change national legislation and the authorities’ practices, by publicizing violations suffered by LGBTI people.

Her advocacy helped prompt the authorities to segregate LGBTI prisoners for their own safety, and provide HIV treatment.


The “Nobel Prize of Human Rights”, the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders (MEA) is a unique collaboration among ten of the world’s leading human rights organizations to give protection to human rights defenders worldwide.

Strongly supported by the City of Geneva, the award is given to Human Rights Defenders who have shown deep commitment and face great personal risk.

Its aim is to provide protection through international recognition.

The Jury is composed of the following NGOs: ICJ, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights First, Int’l Federation for Human Rights, World Organisation Against Torture, Front Line Defenders, EWDE Germany, International Service for Human Rights, and HURIDOCS.


Michael Khambatta, Director, Martin Ennals Foundation, t: +41 79 474 8208, e: khambatta(a)martinennalsaward.org

Olivier van Bogaert, Director, ICJ Media and Communications, and ICJ Representative on the MEA Jury, t: +41 22 979 38 08, e: olivier.vanbogaert(a)icj.org

The Award will be presented by the United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights at 18.15 on 10 October at the University of Geneva. The ceremony can be watched live on Martin Ennals Award Facebook page

Watch the movie on Mohammed Zaree



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