Egypt – Finding Scapegoats

Accountability, Justice and Space for Civil Society, Egypt, Press Release, Report

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Crackdown on Human Rights Defenders and Freedoms in the Name of Counter-terrorism and Security

This Saturday 17 March, EuroMed Rights launches a report EGYPT – Finding Scapegoats, a study that highlights how the Egyptian government perceives human rights organisations and independent civil society at large in particular as a genuine threat to “national security” and “stability”.

Launching this study today is particularly symbolic as Egyptian photojournalist Mahmoud Abou Zeid, also known as Shawkan, is having his next hearing after the prosecutor in the “Rabaa dispersal” case requested a death sentence for him. His case is part of the mass trial against over 700 defendants who were arrested in connection with the August 2013 protests against the Egyptian military’s coup.

EuroMed Rights is deeply concerned about the complete disproportionality of the requested sentence and calls for his immediate and unconditional release, noting also that guarantees for a due process and fair trial have not been respected. Our organisation is all the more alarmed by this punishment, which appears more as another authoritarian decision by a regime seeking scapegoats in the name of security. Shawkan’s case is yet another example of the judicial harassment that independent jour­nalists, human rights lawyers and judges, democracy activists,  feminists, student unions leaders, trade union leaders and minority groups activists face in the Egypt of today. It seems that the ultimate aim of the Egyptian government, is to eliminate all dissenting voices and to gain control over the public domain for good.

As Shawkan’s case illustrates, the judiciary has become the most important tool in the hands of the ex­ecutive power to curtail any peaceful opposition. As underlined in the report in a series of recommendations, EuroMed Rights urges the Egyptian government to respect freedom of expression, assembly and association. All HRDs, activists and journalists detained solely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association and/or imprisoned on charges based on draconian anti-terrorism or national security provisions, should be immediately and unconditionally released.

Read more in our report here

Background information
In Egypt, authorities use counter-terrorism and security measures, security related legislations and the judiciary to repress Human Rights Defenders (HRDs), to curtail fundamental freedoms and to hinder the work of independent NGOs. If the authoritarian drift of the regime continues in this direction, it will devastate civil society for generations to come and eliminate independent civil society altogether. The report shows as well how much resilience HRDs have shown in this difficult period and explores forms of peaceful resistance that could reinvigorate human rights work.
As for photojournalist Shawkan he was covering clashes between Egyptian security forces and supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi for the British agency Demotix during an anti-government protest in Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adawiya Square in August 2013 when arrested. Charges against him include weapons possession, illegal assembly, murder, and attempted murder, the same allegations levied against hundreds of protesters detained during the clashes.  No evidence backing up the charges has been submitted to the date.