The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the sentencing against five leading human rights defenders and three non-governmental organisations in the framework of the ongoing judicial harassment and the restrictions to freedom of association faced by at least 37 Egyptian human rights defenders and organisations, including the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) and the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), two member organisations of FIDH, the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), the Hisham Mubarak Law Center (HMLC), Nazra for Feminist Studies, the Egyptian Centre for the Right to Education (CRE), as well as the Arab Center for the Independence of the Judiciary and the Legal Profession (ACIJLP) and the Land Center for Human Rights (LCHR), two member organisations of OMCT.
According to the information received, on September 17, 2016, the Cairo Criminal Court ordered the freezing of the assets of Messrs. Gamal Eid, Director of ANHRI, Hossam Bahgat, founder of EIPR, Abdel Hafiz Tayel, Executive Director of CRE, Moustafa El Hassan, Director of HMLC, and Bahey Eldin Hassan, Director of the CIHRS, as well as those of three human rights NGOs, the CRE, the CIHRS and the HMLC .
This decision by the Cairo Criminal Court was handed out within the framework of criminal case No. 173/2011, known as “the civil society case” (see background information) .
The Observatory firmly condemns the above-mentioned Court decision, which is the latest evidence of an increasing pattern of judicial harassment launched by the authorities in 2011 targeting civil society organisations and human rights defenders in Egypt .
The Observatory urges the Egyptian authorities to immediately cease all acts of harassment against human rights organisations in Egypt, and to comply with its Constitution (in particular Article 78 and Article 93 which respectively recognise freedom of association and Egypt’s compliance with international human rights conventions ratified by Egypt) as well as its international legal obligations (in particular Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)) and its international commitment to respect freedom of association in the framework of its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) .
Since 2011, the Egyptian Government has launched a judicial harassment campaign against civil society organisations on the pretext that they received unauthorised foreign funding under criminal case No. 173/2011, known as the “civil society case”.
The 2011 Government Fact-Finding Committee report, which formed the basis of the first trial in 2012, listed 37 NGOs who could be targeted under this “civil society case”. That list included ACIJLP, CIHRS, LCHR, the Egyptian Democratic Academy (EDA), HMLC, ANHRI, EIPR, El Nadim Center for the Management and Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture, the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR), the Arab Penal Reform Organization, the Egyptian Center for the Right to Education, El-Haq, the Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement (ACPE), Nazra for Feminist Studies, the Appropriate Communications Technologies (ACT), among others.
The first set of investigations targeted international and foreign NGOs. On June 4, 2013, the North Cairo Criminal Court sentenced 43 Egyptian and foreign staff members of five foreign civil society organisations to imprisonment ranging from one (suspended) to five years of prison for “managing unlicensed branches” of their organisations, “conducting research, political training, surveys, and workshops without licenses”, “training political parties and groups” and “illegally receiving foreign funding”. Though none of the defendants were forced to serve their sentences either because they were abroad or in the case of the junior staff had their sentences suspended, the court ordered the confiscation of their funds and the closure of Egypt-based branches of Freedom House, the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute, the International Centre for Journalists (ICFJ), and Konrad Adenauer Foundation.
The second part of the case targets Egyptian civil society organisations that have received foreign or international funding. In July 2014, the Ministry of Social Solidarity (MoSS) issued an ultimatum for Egyptian human rights organisations to register by late 2014 under Law 84/2002 or face closure .
In September 2014, President Al-Sisi signed into law amendments to Article 78 of the Penal Code. These amendments include the provision that receiving foreign funding for the purpose of “harming national security” is punishable by life imprisonment.
In late 2014, the Investigating Judge in charge of the case appointed a technical committee from the MoSS  to determine whether Egyptian organisations under review operate as civic associations without being registered as such under Law 84/2002, and to examine documents related to their sources of funding. The committee first examined the EDA. It is noteworthy to note that despite the EDA’s registration in compliance with the ultimatum , they are still being investigated. In January 2015, the judge issued travel bans against Messrs. Hossam al-Din Ali, Chairman of the EDA, Ahmed Ghoneim, Deputy, as well as Ms. Israa Abdel Fattah and Bassem Samir, who previously worked in the same organisation.
On June 9, 2015, the Investigating Judge mandated the technical committee to visit the Cairo office of the CIHRS in order to examine whether the CIHRS engages in activities of civic associations under the provisions of Law 84/2002. The committee requested the staff present in the office to provide documentation relating to the administration of the NGO, such as its registration, founding contract and statute, as well as the budgets, financial accounts, and funding contracts for the past four years. One additional demand the staff were instructed to comply with was to provide documentation that proved that the CIHRS was not conducting NGO work.
In July 2015, the HMLC was also subjected to the same review.
In December 2015, the ANHRI received a phone call from the technical committee, which asked to conduct an inspection, but due to the absence of Mr. Gamal Eid, the visit was postponed and eventually did not take place.
In December 2015, the Egyptian Center for the Right to Education was summoned by the Investigating Judge for questioning.
On February 4, 2016, Mr. Gamal Eid was informed of a travel ban as he was attempting to travel outside Egypt. Mr. Hossam Bahgat was informed of a similar ban on February 23, 2016; Mr. Mohamed Zaree, CIHRS Egypt Director, on May 27, 2016; Ms. Hoda Abdel Wahab, ACIJLP Executive Director, and Mr. Nasser Amin, ACIJLP President, on June 20, 2016 and July 14, 2016 respectively; and Ms. Mozn Hassan, Founder and Executive Director of Nazra for Feminist Studies, on June 27, 2016.
On March 13 and 14, 2016, two staff members of CIHRS and three staff members of Nazra for Feminist Studies were notified by telephone of a summons to appear on March 16 before the Investigating Judge in Cairo within the framework of criminal case No. 173/2011. However, the two staff members of CIHRS refused to appear, as they had not been properly notified in person in accordance with the law in force. Two former staff members of the Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies and one accountant from the United Group were also summoned within the same context.
On March 17, Messrs. Hossam Bahgat and Gamal Eid were informed that the Investigative Judge had ordered the freezing of their assets and that their case would be reviewed by the Cairo Criminal Court in Zeinhom on March 24, 2016. The case was subsequently adjourned to April 20, 2016, upon request from the Public Prosecutor.
On April 19, Mr. Bahey eldin Hassan, two staff members of CIHRS, as well as Mr. Moustafa El Hassan, HMLC Director, were informed at 9pm through a phone call from the Egyptian police that they were summoned to appear before the Cairo Criminal Court in Zeinhom on April 20, along with Messrs. Bahgat and Eid.
On April 20, the Cairo Criminal Court in Zeinhom added seven defendants from three additional NGOs to the “asset freeze order” initially targeting Messrs. Hossam Bahgat and Gamal Eid. The additional defendants are Mr. Bahey eldin Hassan, Mr. Moustafa El Hassan, Mr. Abdel Hafiz Tayel, two staff members of CIHRS, as well as of Mr. Bahey eldin Hassan’s wife and daughter and Mr. Gamal Eid’s wife and daughter ..
The hearing by the Cairo Criminal Court in Zeinhom regarding the asset freeze order was postponed several times by the prosecutors to review the evidence and formally summon the new defendants. On May 23, 2016, it was again adjourned to July 17, 2016, and then to August 15.
On August 15, 2016, the Cairo Criminal Court in Zeinhom decided to postpone to September 17 the ruling on the asset-freeze order targeting 11 human rights defenders and family members. The defendants included seven human rights defenders: Mr. Hossam Bahgat, founder of EIPR, Mr. Gamal Eid, Director of ANHRI, Mr. Moustafa El Hassan, Director of HMLC, Mr. Abdel Hafiz Tayel, Executive Director of CRE, Mr. Bahey Eldin Hassan, Director of CIHRS, two other CIHRS employees, as well as Mr. Bahey Eldin Hassan and Mr. Gamal Eid’s respective wives and daughters.
Please write to the authorities of Egypt asking them to:
i. Overturn the decision issued by the Cairo Criminal Court on September 17, 2016, within the framework of a judicial process in appeal which shall conform with fair trial standards and other international human rights norms;
ii. Immediately put an end to investigations and criminal cases targeting NGOs as well as human rights defenders and their relatives;
iii. Put an end to all forms of harassment against all human rights organisations and defenders in Egypt, including travel bans;
iv. Revise the Law on Associations to comply with international human rights standards and the UPR commitments made by Egypt, while ensuring that independent civil society organisations are meaningfully consulted in the drafting process;
v. Comply with all the provisions of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, in particular with its Articles 1, 5(a), 6(a), and 12.2;
vi. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Egypt.
· President of the Arab Republic of Egypt, H.E. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Fax: +202 23901998
· Prime Minister of Egypt, Mr. Sherif Ismail, Fax: + 202 2735 6449 / 27958016. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
· Minister of the Interior of Egypt, Mr. Magdy Abdel Ghaffar, E-mail: email@example.com, Fax: +202 2579 2031 / 2794 5529
· Minister of Justice of Egypt, Mr. Mohamed Hossam Abdel-Rehim, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, Fax: +202 2795 8103
· Public Prosecutor, Fax: +202 2577 4716
· President of the National Council For Human Rights, Mr. Mohamed Fayeq, Fax: + 202 25747497 / 25747670. Email: email@example.com
· H.E. Ms. Wafaa Bassim, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of Egypt to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Fax: +41 22 738 44 15
· Embassy of Egypt in Brussels, Belgium, Fax: +32 2 675.58.88; Email: email@example.com
Please also write to the diplomatic missions or embassies of Egypt in your respective country.