UN Special Rapporteur: Egyptian government’s systematic attacks aim to silence civil society

United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association Maina Kiai issued a warning on Tuesday regarding increasing restrictions imposed on civil society in Egypt and the targeting of human rights workers and independent civil society organizations, according to a statement released by the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Kiai criticized a recent judicial order to freeze the assets of a number of human rights workers, including Hossam Bahgat and Gamal Eid, which came as part of an investigation into a 2011 case concerning civil society organization’s alleged unlicensed receipt of foreign funds.

“The government seems to be systematically attacking civil society in an effort to silence its voice,” Kiai said.

The Kenyan human rights lawyer also expressed concern that drafted legislation to regulate nongovernmental organizations, which the Egyptian Cabinet has approved and retains restrictive provisions of the existing NGO law, will worsen an already constraining legislative framework and drive a wedge between Egypt’s legal system and its commitments to international human rights standards.

“The draft law also limits NGO work to ‘development and social objectives’, and imposes a high level of minimum capital required to set up an NGO. Other new elements introduced by the draft law include the establishment of a specific tax for foreign funding, the banning of activists who have received a prison sentence for forming their own NGOs, and requiring the NGOs to conduct work that meet social needs,” Kiai said.

The UN expert demanded an end to the harassment of human rights workers, urging the government to release another NGO law in transparent cooperation with Egypt’s civil society organizations.

Egyptian authorities reinitiated investigations into civil society organization charged with the illegal receipt of foreign funding of civil society organizations in March. Seventeen human rights workers employed at 12 organizations have been implicated in the case, standing accused of committing acts detrimental to Egypt’s national interests and founding international organizations without state approval.

Nazra for Feminist Studies Executive Director Mozn Hassan and several of the organization’s employees have been questioned in connection to the investigation. In addition to Bahgat and Eid, the assets of three other human rights workers have been frozen, including Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies Director Bahey al-Din Hassan, Center for the Right to Education head Abdel Hafiz Tayel and Hisham Mubarak Law Center Director Mostafa Hassan.

Twelve human rights workers have also been banned from international travel in the last six months since investigations recommenced.

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