Twenty Egyptian human rights organisations issued a joint statement Monday condemning “aggressive actions by the Egyptian government against civil society, which seeks the NGOs’ eradication”.
High profile human rights organisations, including the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR), El Nadeem Centre for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, Nazra for Feminist Studies, the Hesham Mubarak Law Center and others, criticised the “falsity of the government’s claim to support civil society”, and legislations it uses to stifle the work of civil society.
The statement strongly criticised the “repressive” Law 84/2002 NGOs law, saying it is being applied to “suppress” civil society.
“The intimidation of rights groups began when on 18 July 2014, the Ministry of Social Solidarity informed civic associations that they must register under the Associations Law by November 10 or face legal consequences. Further intimidation came as human rights defenders were threatened with prison sentences and at times death, leading several of the most prominent defenders to leave the country and prompting other groups to downsize their operations,” the statement read.
The ministry initially issued an ultimatum to NGOs that ended on 25 September 2014 to register under the law, and then extended the deadline to 10 November 2014, due to complaints from NGOs, which widely described the law as flawed.
The government did not act on the end of the deadline, but some NGOs took precautionary decisions. The Culture Resource (Al-Mawred Al-Thaqafy), a prominent regional NGO in the field of arts and culture, froze all its activities in Egypt two days before the ministry’s deadline, without providing specific reasons.
The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) decided to move its regional and international programmes outside of Egypt, “in light of the ongoing threats to human rights organizations”.
Under Law 84/2002, NGOs cannot receive foreign funding without permission from the Ministry of Social Solidarity, and the government has the authority to dissolve NGOs without a court order.
The NGOs’ statement highlighted the reopening of investigations in cases related to the receipt of foreign funds, saying this is aimed at “eliminating remaining civil society organizations”.
The case dates back to December, when travel bans imposed on three persons from the Egyptian Democracy Academy (EDA) were discovered, a directive that was ordered in connection with an ongoing investigation into illegal foreign funding allegedly received by human rights organisations.
The joint statement revealed that an investigating judge imposed additional travel bans on other leaders of the institution.
The signatory NGOs also stated that the ministry “refused to register several organizations that chose to comply with its requirements”, pointing to the cases of several NGOs that applied under the law.
“At the same time, the ministry has refused all overtures by civil society to discuss amending the current NGO law, despite receiving invitations to do so, while making press statements that it will accept the invitation under the aegis of the National Council for Human Rights,” the statement further read.
The NGOs further accused the government of having the desire to “rid Egypt of rights work, by eliminating rights groups or harassing their staff, who are public actors resisting the ongoing attempts to shut down public space”.
They stressed that “a new NGO law and dialogue are not on the agenda of the government, which prefers to harass and prosecute those who defend human rights”.
The rights organisations called on the government to lift travel bans and drop charges against rights defenders, close the foreign funding case, comply with the provisions of the constitution “which dictates government compliance with international human rights conventions ratified by Egypt, giving them the force of national legislation”, comply with pledges made to accept the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) recommendations in March, and “cease the harassment and prosecution of civil society organizations and human rights defenders”.