UN expert critical of NGO draft law amid ongoing crackdown on civil society

Tuesday 11-10-2016 06:08 PM

Human rights lawyers Hossam Bahgat and Gamal Eid - Aswat Masriya

CAIRO, Oct 11 (Aswat Masriya) - A United Nations expert warned on Tuesday about the "growing restrictions imposed on civil society in Egypt", a few weeks after five prominent human rights defenders and three NGOs had their assets frozen.

On Sept. 17, the Cairo Criminal Court accepted the prosecution's request to freeze the assets of a number of human rights defenders and organizations in connection with case No. 173 (2011), known as the "Foreign Funding Case."

The decision includes founder of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights Hossam Bahgat and the executive director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Gamal Eid.

The case dates back to 2011, when 43 workers for foreign NGOs were charged with operating organisations and receiving foreign funds without a license. The defendants in the case, who included 17 US citizens, other foreigners and Egyptians, were sentenced from one to five years in prison in June 2013, many of them in absentia.

The case was reopened in March to include local NGOs. 

The UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai, said that these developments come in the context of a "continuing crackdown on human rights defenders and civil society organisations in Egypt."

"The Government seems to be systematically attacking civil society in an effort to silence its voice," Kiai said.

Civil society organisations have been operating under law no. 84 / 2002, which has been frequently criticised by local and international organisations for its restrictions in matters related to registration and operation.

Egypt's cabinet approved a new draft NGO law on Sept. 8, but the parliament has yet to discuss it.

Kiai said that the new draft law retains the "restrictive provisions" of the current law, highlighting that it limits NGO work to "development and social objectives" and imposes a high level of minimum capital required to set up an NGO.

The draft law also imposes a specific tax for foreign funding and bans activists who have received a prison sentence for forming their own NGOs, according to Kiai.

The human rights expert called on the Egyptian government to halt the "ongoing harassment against human rights defenders and ogranisations" and urged it to ensure "the compliance of the NGO draft law with international law standards."

Egypt has been facing wide local and international criticism during the past few years over purported human rights violations, such as enforced disappearances, extrajudicial detention, extended periods of pre-trial detention and crackdown on the freedom of belief and expression. 

President Abdel Fattal al-Sisi told a number of US Congress members in a meeting on Sunday that human rights and freedoms in Egypt shouldn't be viewed from a "western perspective due to differences in challenges and local and regional circumstances."

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