Mass Arrests and Proposed New Cybercrime Law in Egypt
Respect for freedom of association has deteriorated drastically in Egypt over the past few months as authorities restrict the operations of independent trade unions, the Journalists’ Syndicate and several human rights organisations. Civil society groups working on sensitive issues faced travel bans, arrests and unwarranted harassment. In late June, the Egyptian authorities prevented prominent women's rights activist Mozn Hassan from travelling to a regional meeting in Lebanon, provoking an outcry and exposing the precarious situation faced by women human rights defenders (WHRDs) in Egypt. In April, the ILO Director-General expressed concern over freedom of association in Egypt and called for the reversal of a recent ban prohibiting the official recognition of independent trade unions. The ban also restricts unions from publishing official documents, prohibits collective bargaining and exposes union leaders to the risk of dismissal and arrest. The Egyptian authorities continue to erode associational rights under the guise of counter terrorism measures. On 25th April and 19th May two staff members from the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF) were arrested and mistreated under counter terrorism legislation. The overly broad use of legislation also continues to restrict CSOs receiving foreign funding, exacerbating an already difficult environment for independent civil society.
On 25th April, demonstrations against the government's decision to acknowledge Saudi Arabia's sovereignty over the two Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir resulted more than 150 people being sentenced to between two and five years in prison. More anti-government protests were recently organised by student groups calling for educational reform and the Education Minister’s dismissal. On 27th June, protests were dispersed by the police and some students were arrested but released on bail on the 1st July.
Freedom of expression
New legislation threatens an already poor situation for freedom of expression in Egypt. The draft cybercrime law presented in May allows prosecutors to block internet content if it "threatens national security", a provision which could be used to suppress independent media outlets under the guise of national security. On 1st May, the Journalists Syndicate was raided, leading to the arrest of two journalists working for an opposition news site: Amr Badr and Mahmoud El-Sakka. Egypt's Journalists Syndicate Chairman Yehia Kalash, union Secretary-General Gamal Abdel-Reheem and undersecretary Khaled El-Balshy were also referred to court for harbouring the journalists. In June, 10 rights groups launched a new campaign called Voices Behind Bars. The campaign publicises information about detainees, including the circumstances of their arrest, information about the conditions of their confinement, and an analysis of the laws used to imprison them, as well as the 'flaws in their application'. The campaign hopes to increase awareness of the arbitrary and unjustifiable charges brought against those in exercising freedom of expression in Egypt.