Egypt: state of emergency extended, violations continue

Association

As previously reported on the CIVICUS Monitor, civil society leaders in Egypt have experienced a wave of aggression. In particular, the Executive Director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI)Gamal Eid continues to face a raft of measures designed to restrict his organisation's work. Eid had previously faced a travel ban after being connected with the 173/2011 case, also known as the foreign funding case which implicated several prominent civil society leaders in receiving illicit funds from abroad in June 2013. 

Eid was physically attacked on the 10th October 2019, by an unidentified assailant in downtown Cairo. The attack happened after he was accosted by an unknown man who assaulted him and stole his mobile phone. Eid was repeatedly hit with the butt of a gun on his face, arms and chest with such force that he suffered cracked ribs as a result of the attack. According to eyewitnesses, a crowd gathered after hearing Eid scream, prompting the assailant to fire a shot from a pistol into the air to disperse the crowd. In the aftermath of the event, suspicions have been raised regarding the complicity of state officials in the attack. In a statement, ANHRI said: 

"Security personnel or special forces are behind the crime, however ANHRI cannot be sure that such police bullying or physical assault on Gamal Eid was carried out in a formal or official way. The crime may also be committed by some “freelance” attackers or bullies as a kind of service or compliment for a corrupt official or a powerful man."

The targeting of the embattled organisation did not end there. Just a few days later, ANHRI faced several violations including detention of its lawyer Amr Imam. On 16th October 2019, Amr Imam was abducted by police officers from his home in Cairo before being assigned to Criminal Case 488/2019 the next day for “collaborating with a terrorist organisation having knowledge of its goals”, “spreading false news” and “misusing one of the social networking tools”. 

ANHRI has vowed to continue their work despite the danger faced by Eid and ANHRI's staff. 

Peaceful Assembly

As previously covered by the CIVICUS Monitor, the Egyptian government’s violent response to protests has caused alarm among domestic and international observers. On 28th October 2019, United Nations (UN) experts issued a joint statement calling on Egypt to uphold the basic civic freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly. In a statement, the group said:  

"We recall that the primary duty of law enforcement authorities is to protect peaceful assemblies. Use of force is not permitted unless strictly necessary, and not to a greater extent than strictly necessary. The use of lethal force should be a measure of last resort." 

In practice, Egyptian authorities have routinely used rubber bullets, tear gas and live ammunition against peaceful protesters. Local monitoring sources also claim that over 3000 people have been detained since the start of the protests. In light of these mass arrests, concerns have also been raised about the systematic use of torture against prominent protesters. In fact, the use of torture has been testified to by rights lawyer Mohamed al-Baqer, blogger and activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, and journalist Esraa Abdel Fattah.

In a joint submission to the UN, ahead of the next Universal Periodic Review of Egypt on 11th November 2019, civil society groups stated:

“Torture is no longer a crime falling under individual culpability, but rather, it has become a state policy with the objective of deterring – by instilling fear - citizens’ participation in the public sphere. This is evidenced by recent amendments in legislation, in particular to the Counter Terrorism Law, which made it legal to detain people for 14 days—later amended to 28—before bringing them before the investigative agencies; thereby lengthening the times under which there is no formal accountability for any crimes committed against detainees typically held incommunicado in undisclosed locations.”

Recognising the severity of the situation, on 24th October 2019 the European Parliament passed a resolution calling on the Egyptian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all human rights defenders detained or sentenced merely for carrying out legitimate and peaceful human rights work. During the debate around the resolution, at least 12 European parliamentarians called for cooperation with Egypt be made conditional on an improvement in the human rights situation.