Following comments by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in which he acknowledged the need for a more” balanced” law governing NGOs, Amnesty International has published an open letter to the government calling for the law to be scrapped and replaced with a version that is in line with Egypt’s constitutional and international commitments to ensure the right to freedom of association.
“While President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s decision to order a review of Egypt’s repressive NGO law is encouraging, amending the law is not enough. It is crucial that the authorities develop a new law in consultation with independent civil society and take concrete steps to end the relentless assault on Egypt’s human rights community,” said Najia Bounaim, Head of Campaigns for North Africa at Amnesty International.
“Egyptian human rights defenders are facing an unprecedented crackdown.
The Egyptian authorities need to show they are sincere and committed to protecting the rights of local and international NGOs by developing a law that ensures they are able to operate independently and carry out their work without fearing harassment, criminal prosecution or the threat of being shut down.”
The authorities have launched a “criminal” investigation into the “foreign funding” of NGOs, if convicted staff could face up to 25 years in prison. At least 30 human rights NGO staff and directors have been banned from travel and seven NGOS and 10 individuals have had their assets frozen. The authorities also ordered the closure of the renowned el-Nadeem Centre for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture.
Human rights defender Hisham Gaafar, director of Mada Foundation for Media Development, has been held for more than three years in pre-trial detention, and Ezzat Ghoniem, co-founder of the Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms was forcibly disappeared on 14 September, despite a court order to release him.
“If the Egyptian authorities are serious about ending the persecution of human rights defenders they need to start by closing the fabricated foreign funding investigation into NGOs, ending travel bans and asset freezes against civil society staff, and immediately and unconditionally releasing Ezzat Ghoniem and Hisham Gaafar,” said Najia Bounaim.
Amnesty International is calling for the process to develop a new law on associations to be transparent and for members of Egyptian civil society to be actively involved in the drafting process.
In May 2017, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ratified law no.70/2017 on Associations and Other Foundations Working in the Field of Civil Work. The law imposed unprecedentedly harsh restrictions on NGOs and has been widely criticized national and internationally.