The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein expressed his grave concern on Wednesday over the closure of hundreds of civil society organisations in Egypt and the prosecution of numerous human rights defenders for their legitimate work, according to official statement issued from the UN Human Rights Office.
“This looks like a clampdown on sections of Egyptian civil society and it must stop,” Al-Hussein said.
Repression by the Egyptian government on NGOs which have played a valuable role in documenting violations and supporting victims will lead to their activities being “completely crippled” in Egypt, the high commissioner asserted.
On Thursday, an Egyptian 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 (ANHRI), and journalist Hossam Bahgat former head of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR). These figures are accused of illegally receiving funding of $1.5m from a foreign government.
Mozn Hassan, director of Nazra Centre for Feminist Studies, was summoned for investigation on 29 March by an examining magistrate, in connection with the issue of “NGOs’ foreign funding”.
“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,” Al-Hussein said.
This case dates back to December 2011, when prosecutors, backed by the police, stormed the offices of 17 local and international NGOs, including the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute, and Freedom House, as part of a probe into the NGO’s allegedly illegal foreign funding.
Forty-three NGOs workers were put to trial, including 32 foreigners, and were convicted of unlicensed work and receiving illegal foreign funds. Twenty seven defendants, all foreigners, were sentenced to five years imprisonment in absentia, while another five foreigners received two-year sentences in attendance and 11 Egyptians received a one-year suspended sentence and an EGP 1,000 fine.
“Egyptian civil society activists should be praised 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.