Egypt: Ongoing harassment and restrictions to freedom of association against several human rights NGOs

16/03/2016
Urgent Appeal

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the ongoing harassment and the restrictions to freedom of association faced by several Egyptian human rights organisations, including the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), a member organisation of FIDH, 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, as well as Nazra for Feminist Studies.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of theInternational Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), has received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Egypt.

New information:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the ongoing harassment and the restrictions to freedom of association faced by several Egyptian human rights organisations, including the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), a member organisation of FIDH, 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, as well as Nazra for Feminist Studies.

According to information received, 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, known as the “foreign funding case against NGOs”. 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[1].

These summons are the latest incident of a campaign of judicial harassment launched by the authorities in 2011 targeting civil society organisations in Egypt. As the investigation has been ongoing for nearly five years[2], the scope of the case remains unknown.

Some sources have alleged that 37 NGOs would be targeted under this “foreign funding case against NGOs”. It wouldinclude ACIJLP, CIHRS, LCHR, the Egyptian Democratic Academy (EDA), the Hisham Mubarak Law Center (HMLC), the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), El Nadim Center for the Management and Rehabilitation of victims of violence, 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 Observatory urges the Egyptian authorities to immediately cease all acts of harassment against human rights organisations, and to comply with its Constitution (in particular Article 78 and Article 93 of the 2014 Egyptian Constitution 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)[3].

The Observatory reminds in particular the Egyptian authorities of their pledges made during the UPR during which they “affirmed that civil society is an essential partner to the government in strengthening human rights”[4].

Background information:

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 criminalcase No. 173/2011.

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”[5]. Though none of the defendants were forced to serve their sentences, 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 case is believed to target Egyptian civil society organisations that have received foreign or international funding. It started with the ultimatum made by the Ministry of Social Solidarity (MoSS)[6] for Egyptian human rights organisations to register by late 2014 under Law 84/2002 or face closure. One month later, a new wave of harassment targeting human rights NGOs began.

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 [7] 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 Egyptian Democratic Academy (EDA). It is noteworthy to note that despite the EDA’s registration in compliance with the ultimatum[8], they are still being investigated. In January 2015, the judge issued travel bans against four staff members and founders of the organisation[9].

In June 2015, the Director of the human rights organisation United Group was interrogated by the Investigating Judge about its sources of funding and legal status[10].In March 2016, the United Group was summonsed for the fourth time.

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.

On June 16, 2015, the CIHRS was presented with a summons letter to appear on June 17, before the Investigating Judge within the framework of the case No. 173/2011. However, the CIHRS refused to accept the summons letter as it failed to comply with the legal requirements in force and subsequently submitted its arguments in writing to the representative of the Investigating Judge. Since then, CIHRS and its members had not received any further summons, until those of March 13 and 14, 2016 (see above).

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 ANHRI’s Director, Mr. Gamal Eid, the visit was postponed and eventually did not take place. On February 4, 2016, Mr. Gamal Eid was informed of a travel ban as he was attempting to travel outside Egypt.

In December 2015, the Egyptian Center for the Right to Education was summoned by the Investigating Judge for questioning.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of Egypt asking them to:

i. Put an end to all forms of harassment against all human rights organisations and defenders in Egypt;

ii. Revise the law on associations to comply with international human rights standards, while ensuring that independent civil society organisations are meaningfully consulted in the drafting process;

iii. Withdraw the ultimatum and stop immediately investigations and criminal cases targeting human rights NGOs;

iv. Comply with all the provisions of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, in particular with:
- its Article 1, which provides that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”;
- its Article 5(a): “For the purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, at the national and international levels (a) To meet or assemble peacefully”
- its Article 6(a), which foresees that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to participate in peaceful activities against violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms”;
- its Article 12.2, which provides that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration”;

v. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Egypt.

Addresses:
· President of the Arab Republic of Egypt, H.E. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Abedine Palace, Cairo, Egypt, Fax: +202 23901998
· Prime Minister, Mr. Ibrahim Mehleb, Magles El Shaab Street, Kasr El Aini Street, Cairo, Egypt. Fax: + 202 2735 6449 / 27958016. Email: primemin@idsc.gov.eg
· Minister of the Interior, General Mohamed Ibrahim Moustafa, Ministry of the Interior, El-Sheikh Rihan Street, Bab al-Louk, Cairo, Egypt, E-mail: moi1@idsc.gov.eg, Fax: +202 2579 2031 / 2794 5529
· Minister of Justice, Mr. Ahmed Al-Zanad, Ministry of Justice, Magles El Saeb Street, Wezaret Al Adl, Cairo, Egypt, E-mail: mojeb@idsc.gov.eg, Fax: +202 2795 8103
· Public Prosecutor, Counsellor Hisham Barakat Dar al-Qadha al-Ali, Ramses Street, Cairo, Egypt, Fax: +202 2577 4716
· Mr. Mohamed Fayeq, President of the National Council For Human Rights, Fax: + 202 25747497 / 25747670. Email: nchr@nchr.org.eg
· H.E. Ms. Wafaa Bassim, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of Egypt to the United Nations in Geneva, 49 avenue Blanc, 1202 Genève, Switzerland, Email: mission.egypt@ties.itu.int, Fax: +41 22 738 44 15
· Embassy of Egypt in Brussels, 19 avenue de l’Uruguay, 1000 Brussels, Belgium, Fax: +32 2 675.58.88; Email:embassy.egypt@skynet.be

Please also write to the diplomatic missions or embassies of Egypt in your respective country.

***
Paris-Geneva, March 16, 2016

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory, a FIDH and OMCT venture, is dedicated to the protection of Human Rights Defenders and aims to offer them concrete support in their time of need.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
- Tel and fax FIDH + 33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18 / +33 1 43 55 18 80
- Tel and fax OMCT + 41 (0) 22 809 49 39 / + 41 22 809 49 29

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[1] The three staff members of Nazra will be represented by a lawyer.
[2] The investigation started in September 2011, and the raid on NGOs took place in December 2011. For more information, please see: http://www.cihrs.org/?p=720&lang=en& http://www.cihrs.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/The-Complaint.pdf
[3] At the occasion of the UPR of Egypt in November 2014, the Egyptian authorities accepted at leastfive recommendations on the protection of human rights defenders, including a commitment to reforming the current NGO law with a wide consultation of NGOs, and a commitment to guarantee the right to freedom of association in accordance with international standards.
[4] See Oral statement by the Egyptian Delegation, http://www.upr-info.org/sites/default/files/document/egypt/session_20_-_october_2014/egypt_upr_egy_42.pdf .
[5]See https://www.fidh.org/International-Federation-for-Human-Rights/north-africa-middle-east/egypt/urgent-statement-on-the-situation-in-egypt-13383 and http://www.omct.org/human-rights-defenders/urgent-interventions/egypt/2013/06/d22265/.
[6] The ultimatum was made public in July 2014, and in September 2014, the deadline was pushed back to November 10, 2014.
[7] The committee is composed of Ministry of Social Solidarity officials but they report to the Investigating Judge.
[8]The EDA has been registered under the Associations Law No. 84/2002 since September 2014.
[9] These are 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. For more information, see http://www.cihrs.org/?p=10572&lang=en.
[10] The United Group is a law firm established 50 years ago, and headed by Mr. Negad El Borai, one of Egypt’s most influential human rights defenders and lawyers.

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