Rights groups sound alarm on crackdown on Egyptian NGOs

Rights groups sound alarm on crackdown on Egyptian NGOs
3 min read
24 March, 2016
The UN and 13 other rights groups have expressed fears over an unprecedented crackdown on NGOs in Egypt, as human rights further deteriorate.
Egyptian authorities have led a crackdown on all dissent since the 2013 military coup [Getty]

The United Nations and global rights groups including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International urged Egypt on Wednesday to drop a renewed investigation of human rights activists that has also strained ties with Washington.

International right groups condemned the Egyptian government's decision to recently reopen a five-year-old investigation into alleged illegal "foreign funding" and "registration irregularities" of independent human rights groups.

In recent weeks, the government has also summoned human rights workers for questioning, banned them from travel and attempted to freeze their personal funds.

"NGOs who have played a valuable role in documenting violations and supporting victims will see their activities completely crippled if this continues," UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said in a statement.

Many rights groups have also raised the alarm.

"Egypt's civil society is being treated like an enemy of the state, rather than a partner for reform and progress," Said Boumedouha, deputy director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa programme, said in a joint statement issued by 13 global rights groups.

     
      Journalist Hossam Bahgat has been targeted [Getty]

Among the activist targeted with travel bans and the freezing of assets in the latest crackdown on civil society include investigative journalist Hossam Bahgat and rights activist Gamal Eid.

"We will not stop defending the rights of the oppressed whether we agree with them or not: ordinary people, Brotherhood members, leftists and even regime supporters if they are oppressed," Eid defiantly tweeted on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, a feminist association also came under investigation for receiving illicit "foreign funding".

Last month, authorities issued an order to close a prominent human rights organisation that documents complaints of torture in custody.

The Egyptian authorities have moved beyond scaremongering and are now rapidly taking concrete steps to shut down the last critical voices in the country’s human rights community

Human Rights Watch's deputy Middle East director, Nadim Houry, said: "The Egyptian authorities have moved beyond scaremongering and are now rapidly taking concrete steps to shut down the last critical voices in the country’s human rights community".

Five months after the fall of longtime leader Hosni Mubarak in 2011, Egyptian authorities began an investigation into the funding of local and foreign groups that led to the closure of five international groups.

Multiple NGOs were accused of receiving funds from the EU and the US totaling $500m during the 2011 case, which was widely criticised for attempting to crush civil society.

The case culminated with the sentencing of more than 27 international workers to five years imprisonment in absentia, and eleven Egyptians received a one-year suspended sentence and a fine.

The US has condemned the latest move and evacuated several of their citizens who were threatened with arrest.

Under Egyptian law, human rights groups operating without legal registration or accepting foreign funding could be jailed for life. Life imprisonment in Egypt amounts to 25 years.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said last week that there was a "deterioration in the human rights situation in Egypt in recent weeks and months".

His Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry brushed off the criticism, saying "only the Egyptians" are entitled to assess the human rights situation in the country.

Rights groups have regularly accused Egypt's security services of carrying out illegal detentions, forced disappearances of activists and torture of detainees.