A new law signed by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, imposing unprecedentedly harsh restrictions on NGOs, could be a death sentence for human rights groups in the country, Amnesty International said today.
“This is a catastrophic blow for human rights groups working in Egypt. The severity of the restrictions imposed by this law threatens to annihilate NGOs in the country, at a time when the authorities’ escalating crackdown on dissent makes their work more important than ever, said Najia Bounaim, Campaigns Director for North Africa at Amnesty International.
“This law, which gives the government extraordinary powers to control NGOs and imposes harsh punishments and fines for any violation of its draconian provisions, is the latest ploy by the Egyptian authorities to silence all independent voices.”
After the law was approved by parliament in November 2016, Amnesty International called on the President not to sign it due to its conflict with Egypt`s constitution and international obligations. However, the President signed the law without addressing any of the concerns raised by Egyptian or international human rights organizations.
Over the past three years, Egyptian authorities have orchestrated a targeted campaign against human rights organizations. Twenty-four have been banned from travel, and seven organizations and 10 individuals have had their assets frozen.
Most recently, investigative judges summoned two NGO directors, Mohamed Zaree from Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies and Mustafa el-Hassan from Hisham Mubarak Law Center. Both were released on bail.
Even in the past week repressive measures have intensified against other critical voices. On 23 May, Egyptian authorities arrested the former presidential candidate Khaled Ali on charges of committing acts that violate public decency.
The Public Prosecution released him on bail the second day and referred him to trial. The authorities have also recently blocked more than 21 websites, among them the prominent news platforms Mada Masr and Daily News Egypt.
“For too long the international community has turned a blind eye to the steady erosion of human rights in Egypt, thus encouraging the authorities to ramp up their attacks on peaceful criticism without fear of being held to account,” said Najia Bounaim.
“We are calling on them to urgently pressure the Egyptian authorities into closing the ongoing criminal investigation into the work of human rights groups, which together with the new law will have devastating consequences for human rights in Egypt.”
Law 70 of 2017 gives Egypt’s NGOs one year to comply or face being dissolved in court.
Among its restrictions are a ban on field research and surveys without government permission, forcing NGOs to adapt their activities to government priorities and plans or face up to five years in prison.
The law also gives the authorities wide powers to dissolve NGOs, dismiss their board of administration and subject their staff to criminal prosecution based on vaguely worded terms including “harming national unity and disturbing public order”.