An open letter signed by a host of academic and cultural figures from the UK has decried the current targeting of political activists in Egypt, published in British media Friday following a similar joint statement by prominent Egyptian civil society organisations on Thursday.
Entitled “Egypt shows scant regard for justice with death sentences for activists”, the strongly-worded letter reads that the Egyptian judiciary continues to act in ways that show no “regard for any recognisable principles of justice”.
Printed in The Guardian, it refers to the recent spate of hundreds of politically-related defendants sentenced to death in Egypt, and the recent seizure of assets of 112 figures claimed to be associated with the Muslim Brotherhood.
The letter’s signatories include professors from Oxford, King’s College London, and University College London amongst other universities, as well as esteemed film director Ken Loach, a member of the National Union of Journalists, and barrister Henry Blaxland.
The statement continues, however, that “the real political purpose of the seizure of assets is revealed by the inclusion on the list of Haitham Mohamedain and Hisham Fouad of the Revolutionary Socialists, Amr Ali of the 6 April Youth Movement and Khaled el-Sayyed from the Youth for Justice and Freedom Movement, all outspoken opponents of the regime and members of left and liberal groups.” The letter holds that the Egyptian government is ‘persecuting’ activists to neutralise the power of oppositional and pro-democracy groups.
“We stand in solidarity with Hisham, Haitham, Khaled, Ali and all other Egyptian activists who are facing judicial persecution as a result of their political opposition,” the statement reads. “We call on the Egyptian judiciary to repeal the death sentences and prosecutions under the anti-protest law.”
A separate open letter signed by 19 of Egypt’s leading non-governmental organisations, published Thursday, also takes aim at the recent treatment of democracy advocates, and in particular travel bans that have been imposed restricting activists from leaving the country.
Referring to a host of travel bans, the letter picks out the 5 December refusal of travel of Hossam al-Din Ali, Chairman of the Egyptian Democratic Institute, and his deputy Ahmed Ghoneim, who discovered their names were included on a travel ban list as they attempted to leave Cairo airport to attend several international events on human rights and democratisation.
A few days later, Esraa Abdel Fattah, another member of the Egyptian Democratic Institute and co-founder the 6 April Movement, was also denied exit from Egypt at the airport.
Like Ali and Ghoneim, upon investigating the ban further, Esraa Abdel Fattah discovered that the directive was ordered in connection with an ongoing investigation into illegal foreign funding allegedly received by human rights organisations. However, none of the individuals have been invited for formal questioning, nor were they informed of the ban.
The use of travel bans “sheds light on the total absence of the rule of law. The legal proceedings leading up to these decisions are completely obscure. The advocates weren’t formally summoned to appear before the investigating judge, nor are they aware of the charges brought against them”, according to the open letter.
Signatories of the letter, which calls for an end to “all harassment of human rights defenders and civil society organizations and their staff”, include the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE), the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), and Nazra for Feminist Studies.
The organisations also assert that the spate of travel bans are unconstitutional, by contradicting Articles 54 and 62, which guarantees freedom of movement, and for travel bans to only be given with a justification and time frame.
The joint statement also covers the current hostile atmosphere towards civil society organisations, including recent directives for organisations to register with the Ministry of Social Solidarity, or face closure and imprisonment.
In December, CIHRS announced that after 20 years of operation they will be moving much of their work to Tunisia. The human rights NGO stated that the decision was taken “in light of the ongoing threats to human rights organizations and the declaration of war on civil society”.
The NGO announced that the their work has become untenable in an atmosphere of “mounting security pressure aimed at shutting out every independent, critical voice from the public sphere, individuals and institutions, Islamist or secular, as well as the erosion of the pillars of the rule of law and the constitution and the deterioration of human rights in the country to a level unprecedented in Egypt’s modern history”.
The joint statement ends by arguing that the current climate runs at odds with the political roadmap towards establishing a democratic state: “At a time when the State should be setting the stage for the elections within an environment of political pluralism and freedom, it instead attacks some of the most important actors in the electoral process, those who are working to raise voter awareness and monitor the electoral process.”