Thirteen rights groups condemned Monday the seizure of the 72nd issue of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information’s (ANHRI) newsletter WASLA as well as the arrest of an employee at the publishing house that produces the four year-old newsletter.
The groups called the Sunday seizure of the ANHRI newsletter an “escalation” in security forces’ “desperate attempts to silence all independent voices in the country”, condemning in the “strongest terms [security forces’] trumped up charges” against ANHRI.
“Such a move is a continuation of the policies of restriction and repression of human rights organisations, and in retaliation for [rights groups’] role in exposing human rights violations,” the joint statement said.
The newsletter in question is published by ANHRI and seeks to connect bloggers and prominent voices to a crowd of non-internet users that are unable to connect with “younger generations” that publish their material online.
The statement also acknowledges that the arrest of one of the men working at the press was arrested by security forces who “gave no formal reasons for his arrest”. Attempts to explain the man’s detention have seemingly gone unnoticed by authorities.
“The actions of the security forces the day before yesterday totally contradicts the Constitution of 2014, as amended, and the text of Article (71) on the inadmissibility of the confiscation of any printed document or its censorship, except in time of war or general mobilisation.”
The statement also notes that the seizure of the publication is “in stark contrast with the international standards of the right to association, which guarantees the right of association in the expression of opinion on issues of public affairs.”
Security forces justified the raid by telling ANHRI that the publication was “calling for the overthrow of the regime, incitement to overthrow the regime, and that the newspaper belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood”. ANHRI has denied these charges.
In Monday’s statement, the groups struck back at what they view as attempts to “liquidate” the work of human rights organisations: “One of the goals of these campaigns is the [silencing of] coverage of the failure of authorities to develop political solutions based on respect for the rule of law in the face of the deep crisis facing the country.”
The statement concludes by noting that “it is unfortunate that [Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi] starts his new term by confiscating [WASLA] by administrative means, in violation of the Constitution, [which] is a serious indicator not only towards human rights organizations, but also on freedom of expression in general and freedom of publications in particular.”
Among the signatories of the document are The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, the Hisham Mubarak Law Centre, the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, and the Egyptian Initiative for Children’s Rights.
The Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR) was raided by 50 armed National Security plainclothes officers in December 2013. Five activists were briefly detained by security forces. One of the activists, Mohamed Adel, is a prominent member of the 6 April Youth movement, and is currently serving a prison term for violating the Protest Law.
During the raid, several computers and laptops were confiscated; six activists were detained and ECESR Lawyer Mahmoud Belal was assaulted by one of the officers after asking him for a warrant.
After the raid, a number of rights groups released a joint statement: “This is a new level of escalation against human rights organisations, this time the state is directly targeting us after it had defamed us and incited against us.”
Police had raided several foreign NGOs in 2011 after prosecutors accused them of receiving illicit funding from abroad.