Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2007 - Egypt
|Publisher||International Federation for Human Rights|
|Author||Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders|
|Publication Date||19 June 2008|
|Cite as||International Federation for Human Rights, Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2007 - Egypt, 19 June 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4864668f4b.html [accessed 22 December 2014]|
The year 2007 was marked in Egypt by an important constitutional reform that resulted in the adoption of 34 amendments by referendum on March 26, 2007, therefore endorsing new hindrances on individual rights and freedoms. This reform led to sharp protests by civil society and opposition parties, which called in particular for a boycott of the referendum. The new Article 179 of the Constitution was of particular concern in this respect. Whilst giving unlimited power to the security forces to arrest and detain persons suspected of terrorism, it also permits the surveillance of postal and telephone communications without a legal warrant. This article further recognises the power of the Head of State to bring any person suspected of terrorism before "exception" courts. The risk of abuse inherent in these provisions is amplified by the fact that Article 86 of the Criminal Code provides such a broad definition of terrorism that acts carried out in the framework of the exercise of fundamental rights can be qualified as terrorist.
Furthermore, the Egyptian authorities maintain a repressive regime, using as a pretext the state of emergency, which has constantly been renewed since 1981. Whilst a law governing the fight against terrorism will in all probability replace the state of emergency in 2008, it is to be feared that it will continue to impose considerable restrictions on the exercise of fundamental freedoms, particularly on freedom of expression. This law should, amongst other things, reinforce supervision of the judiciary by granting extended powers to the security services for phonetapping, searches and extrajudicial arrests. Such restriction of judiciary prerogatives appears although since 2005 – a year in when a referendum, legislative elections and, for the first time, a "pluralist" presidential election were held – magistrates and NGO groups, including the National Campaign for Monitoring Elections and the Civil Society Election Monitoring Observatory, have initiated in 2007 unprecedented mobilisation in the battle for the independence of the judiciary.
Violations of the rights of human rights defenders have also remained numerous and repeated. The latter are in particular victims of the administrative and judicial harassment that is made possible by repressive legislation. Journalists and bloggers are also targets of such repression. During the year, nine legal proceedings were instituted against Mr. Ibrahim Essa, Editor-in-chief of the newspaper Al-Dustour, in particular following publication of an article on the health of the President of the Republic. On February 22, 2007 the blogger Mr. Kareem Amer was sentenced to four years in prison for "defaming President Mubarak" and for "insults to Islam", after publishing articles on his blog condemning the regime's abuses of authority.
Strengthening of State control of independent associations and abuse of the procedure of administrative closure of NGOs
The legal existence of associations is provided in Law No. 84, adopted by Parliament in 2002, which complements the already very restrictive provisions of Law No. 153 of 1999. The 2002 Law effectively places human rights organisations under the control of the Ministry of Social Solidarity and the security services. In addition, it provides for criminal sanctions against organisations that do not strictly comply with the registration process. In practice, this law restricts the right of association, although it is guaranteed by the Constitution, and permits the authorities to close down organisations that denounce attacks on fundamental freedoms. Such closures are carried out in a completely arbitrary manner, since the empowered authorities give no reasons and decisions are sometimes taken by mayors, which is not provided for by the law.
As an illustration, the Ministry of Social Solidarity demanded the closure of the Association for Human Rights and Legal Aid (AHRLA), an NGO specialised in legal assistance and support for victims of torture and which has condemned the use of torture in police stations on many occasions. Officially accused of financial offences in September 2007, the association's website was closed down and its material and financial resources seized. Hearings have been postponed time and time again, and no verdict had yet been pronounced by the end of 2007. In order to continue its activities, AHRLA had to change its status and became a firm of lawyers, as did the Hisham Mubarak Law Center, an NGO with an identical mandate, which was obliged to take similar measures.
On March 29, 2007 the branch of the Centre for Trade Union and Workers Services (CTUWS) in the Qena Governorate of Upper Egypt was closed down by an administrative decision taken by the mayor of the city. The Centre was accused in particular of having organised demonstrations and strikes in the Delta region in December 2006 and January 2007, an accusation denied by CTUWS. Furthermore, on April 10, 2007, the Governor of El-Gharbiya ordered the closure of the Mahalla branch of CTUWS. Finally, on April 22, 2007, the police went to CTUWS headquarters in Helwan, Cairo, and ordered the closure of the offices on the basis of an administrative order from the Ministry of Social Affairs which gave as sole reason the rejection of registration by the Ministry of Security.
Proceedings for defamation and smear campaign against defenders
Defenders have once again this year been subject to proceedings for defamation on the grounds of Article 303 of the Criminal Code. In October 2007, Mr. Kamal Abbas, General Coordinator of CTUWS, and his lawyer Mr. Mohamed Helmy were sentenced to one year in prison for "slander" and "defamation", after reporting corrupt management of a youth centre by the Chairman of the board.
Furthermore, certain organisations supported by the authorities started denigration campaigns against independent associations with the aim of damaging their credibility. In April 2007, the pro-Government Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) led a smear campaign against CTUWS.
Finally, the Egyptian regime took measures intended to create obstacles to exchanges and cooperation between Egyptian defenders and their colleagues in the region. As an example, Mr. Mohamed Abdul Nabi Al Maskati, Director of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR), was prevented from taking part in a conference on youth and human rights held in Egypt in January 2007.
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders is a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH).