On Friday evening, 13 March 2015, the Forum of Independent Egyptian Human Rights Organizations (the Forum) delivered an oral intervention on the status of human rights defenders in Egypt before the 28th session of the UN Human Rights Council, currently convening in Geneva. The intervention came as a response to the report submitted to the session by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.
The Special Rapporteur’s report pointed to several attempts made to raise concerns about the state of human rights with the Egyptian government. The Special Rapportuer had raised concerns, for example, about the security forces’ raid of the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights in May 2014, the sentences issued against the ‘ Ittihadiya’ demonstrators, including human rights defenders Yara Sallam and Sanaa Seif, as well the Ministry of Social Solidarity’s deadline to force NGO’s to register under a draconian NGO law.
The intervention, delivered by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies on behalf of the Forum, welcomed the Special Rapporteur’s report and noted that thus far there has been no genuine political will to stop violations against human rights defenders in Egypt and uphold the work of rights groups. The oral intervention referred to several instances demonstrating how human rights defenders and civil society organizations are being targeted, whether through security crackdowns, unfair prosecutions, travel bans, extrajudicial killings, and repressive legislation – the most serious being the adoption of the terrorist entities decree on February 17, the vague and expansive language of which could easily lead to the labeling of HRDs as terrorists.
The Forum’s intervention also raised the case of human rights activist Shaimaa al-Sabbagh, who was shot and killed by security forces during the dispersion of a peaceful march commemorating the January revolution in Talaat Harb Square in Cairo, as well as the life imprisonment handed down on February 4 to 229 defendants in the so-called ‘Cabinet-clashes’ case, including Ahmed Douma, a political activist and Hind Nafie, the Human Rights Defenders Program Officer with the Hisham Mubarak Law Center. The defendants were collectively fined more than LE17 million. The events of the Cabinet clashes case occurred in December 2011 when army and police forces dispersed a sit-in in the environs of the Cabinet building using excessive and lethal force, assaulting demonstrators, and stripping female protestors.
The Forum also mentioned the Shura Council case, during which, on February 24, the South Cairo Felony Court sentenced activist Alaa Abd al-Fattah and Ahmed Abd al-Rahman to five years in prison, five years of police probation upon release, and a fine of LE100,000 each. Abd al-Fattah and Abd al-Rahman were convicted after exercising their right to peaceful assembly in November 2013 in protest of the inclusion of an article in the constitution that legalizes military trials for civilians.
In addition, the intervention made note of the Ittihadiyya case in which, on December 24, the Court of Appeals sentenced human rights defenders Yara Sallam, Sanaa Seif, and others, to two years in prison on charges of demonstrating in the environs of the presidential palace in Heliopolis, Cairo. The demonstration was organized in response to a new protest law issued in November, which several bodies, including the Egyptian government itself, which has pledged many times to reform it, have recognized as a repressive law that contravenes the constitution.
The intervention also addressed the use of travel bans as a means to harass human rights defenders and activists. Most recently, the investigating judge in the foreign funding case issued a travel ban against Hossam al-Din Ali, the head of the Egyptian Democratic Academy, and his deputy Ahmed Ghoneim on December 5, 2014; another ban was issued against activist Esraa Abd al-Fattah in January 2015.
The intervention comes just days before Egypt is scheduled to adopt the recommendations it received during the Universal Periodic Review last November. On March 20, Egypt is expected to officially declare which of the international recommendations, made to improve the status of human rights and protect human rights defenders in Egypt.
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