June 7, 2017
The undersigned civil society organisations express our serious concern over the recent escalation of restrictions on civil society and the public vilification of human rights defenders in Egypt. We call on the Egyptian authorities to uphold their international obligations and ensure that civil society and human rights defenders can work in a safe and enabling environment without fear of reprisals.
On 24 May 2017, President Abdel Fatah El Sisi signed a highly restrictive law that provides the government with extraordinary powers over NGOs and stifles the activities of civil society. The bill was approved by Parliament in November 2016 but was put on hold after an outcry by local and international civil society organisations to prevent the President from passing it into law. Law 70 of 2017 severely limits the functioning of civil society organisations and unduly restricts the rights to freedom of expression and association. It introduces hefty fines and prison terms for civil society groups who publish a study or a report without prior approval by the government or engage in activities that do not have a developmental or social focus. These new restrictions make it practically impossible for human rights organisations to carry out their work.
Over the past few years, Egyptian authorities banned 24 human rights defenders and NGO staff from traveling abroad, and froze the assets of seven human rights organizations and 10 human rights defenders. These punitive measures have been implemented by an investigative judicial panel appointed to investigate the activities of human rights organizations.
The stifling of the activism of Egyptian feminists and WHRDs such as Azza Soliman and Mozn Hassan who work on critical issues of violence against women, the closure of the El Nadeem center, and the travel ban against WHRD, Aida Seif el-Dawla, etc, are typical of the tools normally used against WHRDs under repressive governments.
We urge the Egyptian authorities to repeal Law 70 of 2017, close the ongoing criminal investigation into the work of human rights groups and ensure a safe and enabling environment in which civil society organisations and human rights defenders can carry out their work without fear of reprisals.
(N.B. Azza Soliman is also a human rights lawyer)