EIPR Statement at UN Human Rights Committee NGO Briefing on Egypt - 28 February 2023
Delivered by Hossam Bahgat
Madam Chair, distinguished members
Thank you for this opportunity. We have made detailed written submissions to your Committee on violations of civil and political rights, so today I would like to take a few minutes to talk about what it is like to speak out against these abuses in today’s Egypt.
We have last presented information to you over 20 years ago, when Egypt was reviewed by this Committee in 2002. But today we are unable to appear before you in person for reasons that go to the heart of this important and timely review.
Egypt’s independent human rights movement has been under constant and unprecedented attack for over a decade. In 2011, just weeks after the Egyptian people’s uprising against dictatorship and corruption, state authorities immediately moved against the country’s most prominent rights defenders with a criminal investigation that remains open 12 years later. As part of this investigation, at least 18 Egyptian human rights defenders are until today barred from travel outside Egypt.
I am one of these ‘defendants’ and I have been under an indefinite travel ban for seven years now. My personal assets have also been frozen pending this so-called ‘investigation’– all part of infamous case 173. Three other colleagues from my organization have been facing the same punitive measures since 2020, after being charged with membership of an illegal group because of our work on prison conditions and criminal justice. Their names are Mohamed Basheer, karim Ennarah and Gasser Abdel Razek.
As I speak to you this morning, another one of my colleagues, researcher Patrick Zaki, sat in the custody of an Emergency State Security Court in Mansoura, where he is on trial for “spreading false information” in an article he published about the conditions of his Coptic Christian community.
Yet another prominent defender unable to appear before you today is prominent human rights lawyer Mohamed Al Baqer, who was arrested inside a courtroom while representing a political prisoner in 2019. He too was sentenced by an emergency court to four years in prison, also for “spreading false information” about Egyptian prisoners.
Independent journalists have also been targeted with similar or worse reprisals. At least 28 reporters are currently imprisoned, making Egypt one of the worst jailers of journalists in the world. Over 500 websites are illegally blocked in the country, including every single news outlet that dares to criticize the authorities. This week, three women journalists were indicted under the 2018 Cybercrime Law over a news report about the country’s largest pro-regime political party. They work for Mada Masr, one of the last independent media outlets in Egypt. The website has been blocked illegally since 2017 and its application for a permit under the new Media Regulation Law was rejected last year.
Madam Chair, Distinguished members,
As a result of these constant attacks, Egypt’s once vibrant and robust human rights movement has shrunk significantly since you last reviewed Egypt two decades ago. Most independent organizations have had to either close down, cease activities or work from exile. The handful of independent groups that remain active inside Egypt are now legally required to register under the new NGO Law, which requires prior approval by executive authorities and security agencies of our plans, activities and funding.
These and many other incidents are not just violations of our basic human rights. They also severely undermine our ability to document and expose abuses and defend the rights of countless other victims. With Egypt currently facing its worst ever human rights crisis, the need for an independent civil society and free media has never been greater.