The United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of assembly and association, Maina Kiai, has voiced concerns about the growing restrictions imposed on civil society in Egypt and the targeting of human rights defenders and organizations.
He cited the freezing of assets belonging to human five prominent human rights defenders and three non governmental organizations (NGOs) by a Criminal Court in the capital Cairo as the main cause for concern.
“These new developments intervene in a context of a continuing crackdown on human rights defenders and civil society organisations in Egypt since the reopening of the 2011 NGO case, known as the ‘ 173 foreign funding case’, in which a number of human rights defenders and heads of civil society organizations are being investigated,” said Mr. Kiai.
“The Government seems to be systematically attacking civil society in an effort to silence its voice,” the rights expert added.
In September, the Egyptian cabinet approved a new draft NGO law that retained restrictions on the country’s NGO legislation. On September 17, a Cairo Criminal Court froze the assests of human rights defenders and civil society organizations.
He also expressed grave restrictions that the draft law placed on the work of civil society groups particularly citing the high minimum capital required to start an NGO.
“I call on the Government of Egypt to halt the ongoing harassment of human rights defenders and organizations and urge the Government to ensure the compliance of the NGO draft law with international law standards, following a transparent consultation process with civil society organizations,” the expert concluded.
Judges sat on the five-year-old case in which the NGOs are accused of receiving foreign funds to sow chaos.
Among those who suffered the Cairo court decision were the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights founder and former director Hossam Bahgat and Gamal Eid, the head of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information.
Some of the activists fought back, saying they are facing their worst attacks yet.
“This is what is expected in Egypt; political vengeance continues, and we will continue. Until we’re completely banned from defending human rights, we will not give up our role and we will continue. Egypt is a police state, and it will not become democratic until there is democracy, not by pretending.”
“The case has very little legal ground to start with so we know this is not exactly a purely judicial process, there is a lot of politics around it. It’s a punitive measure that aims to silence all critics, but that is not going to work.”
At least 11 human rights defenders are also banned from travel in relation to the case. No criminal charges have been proffered yet.