Only two weeks in to March, five international institutions have expressed “serious concerns” regarding the Egyptian government’s failure to respect human rights amid an increased crackdown on freedoms.
Several ongoing cases in Egypt have stirred global controversies, while the local regime continues to condemn what it refers to as “foreign interference in internal affairs on groundless claims”.
On Wednesday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement in which he “reiterated his support for the important work of Egyptian human rights organisations in promoting and implementing universal principles and standards of human rights”, following a meeting with Bahey Eldin Hassan, the director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS).
Hassan spoke of the continuous deterioration of human rights in Egypt and the deployment of the judiciary for political and security ends, with the goal of retaliating against rights organisations, according to CIHRS which moved outside Egypt in 2014, stating “threats to human rights organisations and the declaration of war on civil society”.
“The pair also discussed the responsibility of the UN and its agencies toward these serious practices and conditions. The secretary-general expressed his deep concern at the ongoing pressure exerted by the Egyptian government on dozens of rights organisations with the goal of shutting them down, which promises a further decline in human rights. The meeting was attended by several officials with the UN General-Secretariat and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights,” CIHRS said in a Thursday press release.
The meeting shed light on the re-opening of investigations into a well-known NGOs foreign funding case from 2011, which had resulted in the closure of many foreign civil organisation and verdicts issued against their personnel in 2013.
Currently, a number of human rights’ workers and NGOs are facing trial over accusations of illegally receiving foreign funds, intended to serve “foreign agendas working against Egypt”.
Among them are Gamal Eid, a lawyer who heads the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), and journalist Hossam Bahgat former head of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), accused of illegally receiving funding of $1.5m from a foreign government, in addition to the summoning for investigation of workers and the director of Nazra Centre for Feminist Studies.
Moreover, last February, security forces showed up at the doors of an NGO recognised since 1993, in an attempt to shut it down, stating “license violations”. El Nadeem Centre for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture had been publicly denouncing human rights’ violations inside detention facilities.
On Wednesday, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein expressed his grave concern over the closure of civil society organisations in Egypt and the prosecution of numerous human rights defenders for their legitimate work.
“This looks like a clampdown on sections of Egyptian civil society and it must stop,” Al-Hussein said, according to official statement issued from the UN Human Rights Office.
On Tuesday, the German government expressed worry about the “repression” of human rights organisations, saying it was following the latest travel bans, bank account freezes, and investigations against human rights activists and organisations in Egypt with “great concern”.
Likewise, UK Foreign Office minister Tobias Ellwood highlighted similar concerns, stating that “Egypt has committed to allowing civil society organisations to engage in activities freely in its 2014 constitution. Restrictions and sanctions run counter to this and undermine international confidence in Egypt’s political transition”.
Before that, US secretary of state John Kerry issued a statement on Saturday also critical of the human rights situation in recent months, and the new wave of prosecution against NGO workers in Egypt.
Meanwhile, a second case under global scrutiny is that of Italian student Giulio Regeni, which pushed the European Parliament to adopt a resolution on Egypt on 10 March, demanding accountability for the torture and murder of Regeni, and suggesting that his case was not an isolated incident, but that it occurred within a context of “torture, death in custody and enforced disappearances across Egypt in recent years”.
All international reports follow dozens of detailed reports issued by several local NGOs following up on young detainees, freedom of belief, thought and expression, and demanding that the government stop persecuting political activists, journalists and civil society, in addition to decrying violations of human rights such as practices of torture, disappearances, prolonged trials and unlawful detentions.
However, Egypt’s government only reacted to international criticism, classifying them as wrongfully distorting Egypt’s image, without evidence for any of those claims.
The Egyptian Foreign Ministry – which has been regularly condemning such reports – released a new statement Thursday in which it said that “it has been noticed in the past few days that numerous comments issued by foreign governments on the crackdown on civil society in Egypt are generalised and groundless; which implies that they were drawn by sources who have direct interest in promoting such impressions about Egypt”.
The statement went on questioning whether the motives of those comments were indeed aimed at protecting human rights and freedoms “or protecting the interests of individuals or groups who work in favour of countries that benefit from the activities of some NGOs that aim at disrupting public order and work against the institutions of this country, and the will of its people”.
The ministry added that there are currently 47,000 local NGOs, in addition to nearly 100 foreign civil organisations “operating in Egypt under a free environment,” and that the government’s rejection of foreign funding for NGOs in 2015 did not exceed 7%, while some other NGOs were allowed to receive nearly $100m in the same year, concluding that it is the right of Egypt to regulate the work of NGOs and their funding.
The recently-elected Egyptian parliament adopted a similar attitude by condemning the EU parliament’s resolution, arguing that any claims on Regeni’s case were unfounded until the conclusion of official investigations. Moreover, a parliamentary delegation is seeking to respond to those claims based on evidence.
Since the ouster of former president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013, the political opposition, foreign reports and human rights’ advocates have been intimidated in various ways by the regime and its supporters. Media content has been stuffed with conspiracy theories carried out by foreign elements and their agents against Egypt.