Human Rights Watch exhorts Egypt to scrap NGO bill

Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on Egypt to scrap a new bill regulating NGOs, fearing the proposed legislation would give the government veto power over all their activities and “sound the death knell for the independence these groups have fought to maintain.”

In a statement issued Monday, HRW urged Egyptian authorities to draft new legislation that would promote Egyptians’ right to freedom of association instead.

Late last month, the Ministry of Social Solidarity proposed a law that would make all NGO activities, including board decisions, subject to government veto, HRW said.

The ministry is expected to present the bill to the new parliament once it is elected.

The rights group cautioned that if passed, the law would empower the government to “dissolve existing groups, pending a court order, or refuse to license new groups if it decided their activities could ‘threaten national unity’.”

“This law is not about regulating nongovernmental organizations — it’s about throttling them and robbing them of their independence,” said Joe Stork, HRW’s deputy Middle East and North Africa director.

“These provisions would extinguish a crucial element of democracy in Egypt,” he argued.

In June, 43 foreign NGO workers were handed down prison sentences for illegally receiving funding and other offenses following a December 2011 raid on six foreign NGO offices in Cairo.

Stork said the draft law requires rights groups to obtain permission to report on “abuses from the very entities abusing those rights.”

“If Egypt’s government is serious about human rights, transparency or democracy — values enshrined in the country’s Constitution — it will scrap this text and return to real consultations with independent groups on a fresh draft,” he said.

The law would prohibit all associations from engaging in “political activities,” or undertaking the work of trade unions and associations, HRW said, which would threaten organizations that promote labor rights or offer services to workers.

The law criminalizes engaging in such activities, making violations punishable by at least one year in prison and a fine of at least LE100,000.

HRW’s statement further details the draft law’s articles, criticizing them for allowing government interference in the work of NGOs.

AD