Egypt: Court orders freezing of assets of prominent human rights defenders

On 17 September an Egyptian court upheld an order of an investigating magistrate from February, which ordered the freezing of assets of several prominent human rights defenders and organisations. This court order is part of an ongoing campaign of repression, aimed at silencing human rights defenders in Egypt. 

ARTICLE 19 condemns the court order in the strongest possible terms and calls for Egypt to cease harassing human rights defenders and organisations.

The court order imposes an asset freeze on the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) and its founder and director, Bahey eldin Hassan; the Hisham Mubarak Law Center and its director Mustafa al-Hassan, as well as the Egyptian Center for the Right to Education and its founder, Abdel-Hafiz Tayel. The judge also froze the assets of Hossam Bahgat, the former director and founder of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights and

Gamal Eid, and the director and founder of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI); without specifying whether the assets freeze would affect EIPR and ANHRI.

“Egypt is using fear and repressive tactics to force the closure of human rights organisations, through opening investigations, issuing travel bans and ordering asset freezes against human rights defenders,” said Saloua Ghazouani, Director of ARTICLE 19 Tunisia Office. “The international community must not turn a blind eye to these abuses,” she added.

The ruling was issued by investigative judges, also overseeing case no. 173 of 2011 or the “foreign-funding” case. Over the last five years, the foreign-funding case, which was opened just five months after overthrow of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, has been used to stifle civil society organisations.

The case directly impacts the ability of the human rights organisations implicated in the case to carry out their work in Egypt, and creates an environment of repression for civil society more broadly. In 2011 authorities raided 17 NGOs, accusing them of a conspiracy against Egypt. In 2013, foreign NGOs were forced out of the country when a court ordered the closure of several foreign human rights organisations and sentenced their staff. Civil society organisations came under increased pressure after the Ministry of Social Solidarity announced that all Egyptian and foreign NGOs working in Egypt must register with the Ministry of Social Solidarity before 2 September 2014. The foreign-funding case lay dormant for a number of years, but was re-opened in early 2016. The ruling on Saturday is an indicator that criminal sentences in the foreign-funding case may be issued soon.

According to EIPR, at least twelve Egyptian human rights organisations have been subject to repressive measures in the foreign funding case in the last six months. Most of the charges in the case relate to the following problematic articles in the Egyptian Penal Code and the Law of Associations.

  • Article 78 of the Penal Code criminalises the receipt of foreign funding for the purpose of “pursuing acts harmful to national interests or destabilizing general peace or the country’s independence and its unity, or committing hostile acts against Egypt or harming security and public order.” It carries a potential maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
  • Article 98 (c) of the Penal Code criminalises establishing or managing an association or organisation of an international character, or a branch of an international organisation, without a license. It carries a maximum sentence of 6 months’ imprisonment
  • Article 98(d) of the Penal Code criminalises the receipt of money or benefits from inside the country or abroad, when the purpose is to commit a crime (listed in 98(1), 98(1)(bis), 98(b), 98(c), or 174 of the Penal code
  • Article 76 (2) of the Law of Associations punishes failure to register the association with up to 6 months’ imprisonment.

ARTICLE 19 and thirteen other international human rights organisations previously called for the investigation to be dropped and raised our concerns at the UN Human Rights Council, along with five other human rights organisations, at the repression of Egyptian civil society.

ARTICLE 19 calls for Egypt to overturn the asset freeze and drop all charges against human rights defenders, and particularly those subject to investigations in the “foreign-funding” case, to be dropped. Egypt should cease the harassment of civil society, and commence a reform process to bring its laws and practice in to line with its international human rights obligations.