International NGOs condemn Egypt’s crackdown on rights groups

Egyptian judicial commission has ordered the assets of four people frozen, including Hossam Bahgat, one of the country's most prominent investigative journalists and the head of Arabic Network for Human Rights Information Gamal Eid. (Sarah Rafea via AP, File) MANDATORY CREDIT

Egyptian judicial commission has ordered the assets of four people frozen, including Hossam Bahgat, one of the country’s most prominent investigative journalists and the head of Arabic Network for Human Rights Information Gamal Eid. (Sarah Rafea via AP, File) MANDATORY CREDIT

The United Nations and 14 global rights groups including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty urged Egypt to drop a renewed investigation of rights activists that has also strained ties with Washington.

“Egypt’s civil society is being treated like an enemy of the state, rather than a partner for reform and progress,” Amnesty said in a statement. “The Egyptian authorities have moved beyond scaremongering and are now rapidly taking concrete steps to shut down the last critical voices in the country’s human rights community.”

Last week, a judicial committee overseeing the five-year-old investigation ordered the freezing of assets of four Egyptian human rights activists and their families.

Rights activists Hossam Bahgat, who founded the Egyptian Initiative for Personnel Rights (EIPR) in 2004, and Gamal Eid, who founded the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) in 2004, were among those whose assets were frozen.

“NGOs who have played a valuable role in documenting violations and supporting victims will see their activities completely crippled if this continues,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said in a statement. “This will stifle the voices of those who advocate for victims,” he said.

The law empowers the government to shut down any group not believed to be acting in compliance, freeze its assets, confiscate its property, reject nominees to its governing board, and block its funding or deny requests to affiliate with international organisations.

The first phase concluded in 2013, when a court sentenced 43 foreign and Egyptian employees of five international NGOs to between one and five years in prison, although the sentences were either suspended or issued in absentia.
Other NGOs have been closed over alleged links to the banned Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist movement to which Mohammed Morsi belonged.

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