Egypt: Closure of ANHRI exposes falsity of government claim to reform human rights

In Egypt /Road Map Program, Statements and Position Papers by CIHRS

Today 10 January 2022, the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) announced the suspension of its operations in Egypt, after eighteen years of steadfast struggle in defense of free opinion and expression. The closure of this reputable organization, a mainstay of Egypt’s rights community, belies recent pledges made by the Sisi government to improve the country’s human rights situation, while confirming that the government’s campaign to eliminate the independent human rights movement continues.

ANHRI’s fate evidences the elimination of all pathways to reform in Egypt and the closure of the country’s public sphere to any independent voice emanating from an individual, group or institution, especially in regards to politics and human rights. While regretting this heavy loss, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) fully understands the circumstances compelling the organization’s disbandment, and expresses its unequivocal solidarity with ANHRI, its founders and staff.

Since his assumption of the presidency in 2014, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has engaged in an unrelenting offensive against human rights organizations in Egypt. The latest of these attacks was the compulsory registration period under the NGO law, Civil Labor Law no. 149 of 2019; civil organizations were warned by the government to register under the law no later than 11 January 2022 or else face shutdown. Independent experts at the United Nations had warned that the NGO law will effectively eliminate freedom of association in Egypt.  In a commentary, CIHRS explained that the law’s executive regulations violate both Egypt’s constitution (Article 75) and its international human rights obligations.

Under the Sisi presidency, the Egyptian human rights movement has suffered an unprecedented decrease in the number of its organizations and its member  as a result of the  state’s unyielding intimidation and repression. In parallel, a state security-led media campaign remains ongoing, directed against any publications by human rights organizations regarding grave violations taking place in the country. ANHRI will not be the last human rights organization forced to suspend their activities rather than registering under the arbitrary and repressive NGO law, which seeks to systematically eradicate civil society and undermine its humanitarian and development role.

The Arab Network for Human Rights Information and its founder Gamal Eid have been subjected to extensive security and judicial harassment and repression, which has taken many forms. In 2016, Eid’s assets were frozen and he was banned from travel, pending investigation in Case no. 173 of 2011, also known as the “Foreign Funding Case.” In 2019, Eid was assaulted four times in less than three months. In October alone, unknown perpetrators stole his car, and attempted to kidnap him as he was on his way home; they attacked him, leaving him with fractures and bruises on his ribs. The same month, Eid was again assaulted while driving another car – the replacement for his stolen car – and the unknown assailants smashed the car windows. On 29 December, a number of security personnel and officers stepped out of three cars, knocked him to the ground and began beating him. Then a state security officer  – whom Gamal Eid recognized – gave an order to the officers to drench Eid in paint, in an attempt to humiliate him.

Eid has also faced malicious and organized large-scale media and online campaigns, which accuse him of exploiting the spread of Covid-19 for political gain, and spreading false information about the human rights situation in Egypt. He is described in the media as a thug seeking fame and material gain from his human rights work, and  his financial responsibility is questioned.

In addition, repeated and explicit  threats have been made in the media and online  concerning the  Ministry of Interior’s consideration of legal measures against Gamal Eid for his publication of “false” information about the conditions of detention sites in Egypt. Meanwhile,  reports  were filed against Eid before the Attorney General , accusing him of joining the Muslim Brotherhood, which is classified as a terrorist group by the Egyptian government. Allegations of terrorism are commonly deployed by security and judicial agencies against individuals and groups – both Islamic and secular –  perceived as critical of the government; despite Eid’s longstanding association with secular and civil activism, he among many other secular activists face accusations of terrorism in connection to the outlawed Islamic political party.

The harassment and hostility faced by ANHRI and its founder Gamal Eid must be viewed in the context of the ongoing and vicious assault launched by state agencies against independent civil society organizations working in the field of human rights. Several notable cases among many include the two prison sentences handed down in absentia, in 2020, against human rights defender Bahey eldin Hassan, director of CIHRS. Human rights lawyer Mohamed El-Baqer, founder of the Adalah Center for Rights and Freedoms, was added to the terrorist lists in September 2021 and sentenced to five years in prison last month, in December 2021.  Ibrahim Ezz El-Din, a researcher at the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, was forcibly disappeared, tortured, and imprisoned; and human rights defender Ibrahim Metwally, founder of the Association of Families of the Forcibly Disappeared,  has been imprisoned since September 2017. Lawyer Ezzat Ghoneim, director of the Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms, and human rights defender Hoda Abdelmoneim, remain imprisoned, while some others were referred to new cases. Leaders of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR)  were arrested in November 2020 and their assets frozen; they were released following pressure from the international community.

CIHRS confirms the Egyptian state’s campaign to eliminate independent human rights organizations remains ongoing and takes an array of forms – both within and outside the nation’s legislative framework. Despite claiming to seek improvement in the country’s human rights situation, the forced closure of ANRHI only constitutes further evidence that the government’s claimed desire for human rights reform is insincere and illusory.   NGOs such as ANHRI not only face repressive legislation, they are also forced to operate in a context where the rule of law itself is absent: with Egypt’s own constitution and international obligations habitually disregarded while the security services retain control over all state institutions, including the judiciary.

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