A move by the Egyptian authorities to prohibit Egyptian NGOs’ contact with foreign organisations without prior permission from security bodies represents a new low for freedom of association, Amnesty International said yesterday (21 February)
In a letter to the NGO, the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights, Egypt’s Ministry of Insurance and Social Affairs stated that no “local entity” is permitted to engage with “international entities” in any way without the permission of the “security bodies”, referring to instructions issued by the Prime Minister.
Amnesty has obtained a copy of the letter. The vague language on “international entities” is likely to include both international human rights organisations and UN bodies.
Under current legislation in Egypt numerous obstacles faced by NGOs include restrictions on registration and obtaining foreign funding. Drafts of new laws seen by Amnesty tighten restrictions even more - in some cases severely limiting the ability of NGOs to conduct fact-finding visits and other essential activities, as well as further restricting funding.
Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said: “NGOs in Egypt already face staggering restrictions, but this instruction is a new low. It is a disturbing indicator of what may lie ahead for human rights groups in the government’s new law.
“The authorities must stop using independent civil society organisations as scapegoats for all the ills of Egypt.
“Banning contacts with international ‘entities’ invokes Mubarak-era practices that the current President had pledged to break with.
“We’re urging the Egyptian authorities to ensure that any legislation to replace the NGO law is in line with international law, respects the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association, and is based on transparent consultations with human rights organisations and other NGOs.”
Since Egypt’s '25 January Revolution' in 2011, the authorities have cracked down on international organisations and human rights groups. In July 2011 the Egyptian government launched an investigation into the foreign funding of NGOs, leading to an unprecedented series of raids on both international and local civil society groups in December of that year. Following the raids, 43 staff members of international organisations were put on trial on charges of operating without official registration and obtaining foreign funding without the authorities’ permission. Amnesty has urged the authorities to drop the charges.
Egypt’s government has recently faced criticism over another new draft law limiting freedom of assembly, amid reports of other restrictive laws being on their way. Meanwhile, the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights was refused government permission last year to work on a freedom of association project.