EGYPT: Ongoing judicial harassment faced by several human rights defenders and organisations

22/04/2016
Urgent Appeal

New information
EGY 003 / 0615 / OBS 049.3

Harassment /
Restrictions to freedom of association
Egypt
April 22, 2016

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the ongoing judicial harassment and restrictions to freedom of association faced by several 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), the Arab Center for the Independence of the Judiciary, Nazra for Feminist Studies, as well as the Legal Profession (ACIJLP) and the Land Center for Human Rights (LCHR), two member organisations of OMCT.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International 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 judicial harassment and restrictions to freedom of association faced by several 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), the Arab Center for the Independence of the Judiciary, Nazra for Feminist Studies, as well as the Legal Profession (ACIJLP) and the Land Center for Human Rights (LCHR), two member organisations of OMCT.

According to information received, on April 20, 2016, the Cairo Criminal Court in Zeinhom added seven defendants from three additional NGOs to the “asset freeze trial” against Mr. Hossam Bahgat, founder of EIPR, and Mr. Gamal Eid, Director of ANHRI. The “asset freeze trial” is held within the framework of criminal case No. 173/2011, known as the “foreign funding case against NGOs” (see background information).

The additional defendants are Mr. Bahey eldin Hassan, CIHRS Director, Mr. Moustafa El Hassan, HMLC Director, Mr. Abdel Hafiz Tayel, Executive Director of the Egyptian Center for the Right to Education, 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[1].

The next hearing against the eleven defendants was scheduled for May 23, 2016, as the prosecutors once again requested an adjournment to review the evidence and formally summon the new defendants.

These developments are the latest escalation in a campaign of judicial harassment launched by the authorities in 2011 targeting civil society organisations and human rights defenders in Egypt[2]. The “asset freeze case” started on March 17, 2016, when 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, the two above-mentioned staff members of CIHRS, as well as Mr. Moustafa El Hassan 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.

The Observatory recalls that a number of other human rights have been recently harassed within the framework of the same judicial case: on March 22, 2016, Ms. Mozn Hassan, Executive Director of Nazra for Feminist Studies, was formally accused of receiving foreign funds without authorisation, and throughout the month of March 2016, a number of NGO staff members were summoned to appear before the Investigating Judge (see background information).

The Observatory urges the Egyptian authorities to immediately cease all acts of harassment against the above-mentioned human rights defenders, relatives, and NGOs, 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)[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 criminal case No. 173/2011, known as the “foreign funding case against NGOs”.

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 “foreign funding case against NGOs”. 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, 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 case targets Egyptian civil society organisations that have received foreign or international funding. It started with the ultimatum made by the Ministry of Social Solidarity (MoSS)[5] 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[6] 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[7], they are still being investigated. In January 2015, the judge issued travel bans against four staff members and founders of the organisation[8].

In June 2015, Mr. Negad El Borai, the Director of the human rights organisation United Group, was interrogated by the Investigating Judge about its sources of funding and legal status[9]. 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 below).

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. Mr. Hossam Bahgat was informed of a similar ban on February 23, 2016.

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

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[10]. 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.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of Egypt asking them to:

i. Immediately put an end to investigations and criminal cases targeting NGOs as well as human rights defenders and their relatives;

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

iii. 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;

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, Fax: +202 23901998
· Prime Minister of Egypt, Mr. Sherif Ismail, Fax: + 202 2735 6449 / 27958016. Email: primemin@idsc.gov.eg
· Minister of the Interior of Egypt, Mr. Magdy Abdel Ghaffar, E-mail: moi1@idsc.gov.eg, Fax: +202 2579 2031 / 2794 5529
· Minister of Justice of Egypt, Mr. Mohamed Hossam Abdel-Rehim, E-mail: mojeb@idsc.gov.eg, 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: nchr@nchr.org.eg
· H.E. Ms. Wafaa Bassim, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of Egypt to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Email: mission.egypt@ties.itu.int, Fax: +41 22 738 44 15
· Embassy of Egypt in 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, April 22, 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.

— -

[1] Mr. Bahgat attended the April-20 hearing, while the other defendants were represented by their lawyers. No formal charges were confirmed on that occasion.

[2] The investigation started in September 2011, and the raid on NGOs took place in December 2011. As the investigation has been ongoing for nearly five years, the scope of the case remains unknown. 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 least five 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] The ultimatum was made public in July 2014, and in September 2014, the deadline was pushed back to November 10, 2014.

[6] The committee is composed of Ministry of Social Solidarity officials but they report to the Investigating Judge.

[7] The EDA has been registered under the Associations Law No. 84/2002 since September 2014.

[8] 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

[9] 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.

[10] The three staff members of Nazra will be represented by a lawyer.

Read more