GENEVA (23 March 2016) – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein on Wednesday expressed grave concern over the closure of hundreds of civil society organizations in Egypt and the prosecutions of numerous human rights defenders for their legitimate work since November 2014.
“This looks like a clampdown on sections of Egyptian civil society and it must stop,” said Zeid. “NGOs who have played a valuable role in documenting violations and supporting victims will see their activities completely crippled if this continues. This will stifle the voices of those who advocate for victims.”
On Thursday, a court is expected to rule on the asset freeze ordered against two prominent human rights defenders: Gamal Eid, a lawyer who heads the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, and journalist Hossam Bahgat, former head of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. The two men are accused of illegally receiving funding of $1.5 million from a foreign government. Their prosecutions are part of a case that dates back to 2011 when 43 staff from international NGOs were charged with receiving funds from a foreign government without a license.
In addition, this week Muzen Hassan, director of the Nazra Centre for Feminist Studies, was summoned for investigation by an examining magistrate on 29 March, in connection with the issue of "foreign funding" of NGOs.
“Everyone has the right to receive funds to promote human rights through peaceful means. The Egyptian authorities must stop all prosecutions targeting legitimate human rights activities and in particular terminate the cases against Hossam Bahgat and Gamal Eid, who by international standards have clearly not committed any crime,” the High Commissioner said.
Many organizations have been dissolved under Egypt’s 2002 NGO law. Many other NGOs have also been dissolved because of their alleged links to the Muslim Brotherhood which is considered a terrorist organization by the Egyptian courts. On just one day this month, at least 20 NGOs were dissolved in the Delta Governorate and other NGOs elsewhere in the country had their activities frozen pending investigation.
Among NGOs at risk of closure are organizations, such as the Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, which were licensed to carry out human rights activities. Last month, officials told staff that by publishing reports on torture they had breached their license because this was deemed an unlicensed “medical activity.”
Human rights activists, journalists and political activists have also been subjected to travel bans. According to Egyptian sources, hundreds of people have been prevented from entering or leaving the country, in many cases without any judicial order.
Restrictions like these contravene Egypt’s obligations under the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights to provide freedom of association and freedom of expression. They also violate the Egyptian Constitution.
“Egyptian civil society activists should be lauded for their dedicated efforts to promote human rights under such difficult circumstances. Laws that impose undue restrictions on NGO registration and funding – as well as freedom of expression and association – must be amended to create a more tolerant atmosphere,” Zeid said.
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