Letter to Merkel ahead of visit to Cairo
24 February 2017
Dr Angela Merkel
Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany
Subject: Your visit to Cairo, 2-3 March 2017, amidst clampdown on human rights in Egypt
Dear Chancellor Merkel,
Your upcoming trip to Cairo to discuss migration and counter-terrorism also provides a key opportunity to raise concerns with President al-Sisi, in the strongest terms, about the current clampdown on human rights and the silencing of the independent human rights movement in Egypt, in violation of Egypt’s obligations under its 2014 Constitution and international human rights law.
The repression of civil society organisations (CSOs), including prominent human rights defenders (HRDs) and media workers, has been accelerating dramatically since the end of 2016 with a slew of asset freezes and at least 17 travel bans within case 173/2011, known as the “foreign funding case”, in which HRDs may incur life sentences for receipt of unauthorised foreign funding. This case already disproportionately affected German political foundations, and is now threatening local Egyptian NGOs and women HRDs such as Ms Azza Soliman, founder of the Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance (CEWLA) and Dr Aida Seif al-Dawla, co-founder of El-Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence. Ms Soliman was arrested from her home on 7 December 2016 and taken for interrogation. In January 2017, Ms Mozn Hassan, the NGO she directs, Nazra for Feminist Studies; Mr Mohamed Zarea, one of his colleagues and his NGO, the Arab Penal Reform Organisation, all had their assets frozen as well. Mr Negad El-Borai then also received a travel ban within case 173/2011. Protecting HRDs is a priority within your Federal Government’s Action Plan on Human Rights, and the EU Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders.
On 9 February 2017, a precedent was set when the Egyptian authorities suddenly shuttered the anti-torture NGO El-Nadeem Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence; this was rightly condemned by Germany’s Human Rights Commissioner Dr Bärbel Kofler. Its founders are among Egypt’s women HRDs specifically targeted within this crackdown: Aida Seif al-Dawla, Magda Adly and Suzan Fayyad, as well as Mozn Hassan and Azza Soliman.
Egypt’s President could still receive and ratify the draconian NGO law adopted by Parliament in 2016 that would put an end to independent civil society altogether. This law thoroughly violates the constitutionally-guaranteed right to freedom of association and Egypt’s many international legal commitments to uphold it. It would place all of Egyptian civil society under full control of State bodies, specifically ban any NGOs connected to foreign governments, political parties or trade unions, and thus prevent the return of any German political foundations to Egypt.
We urge you to emphasise to President al-Sisi that Germany views the presence of a free and vital civil society in Egypt as indispensable, and stress the urgent need for the Government of Egypt to address widespread torture, enforced disappearances and deaths in detention, as well as highly prevalent gender-based violence. The closure of the public sphere through repression of media workers, and the use of the 1914 Assembly Law and 2013 Protest Law to ban peaceful gatherings and rationalise long, arbitrary detentions, must be raised. The impact of such policies is inherently destabilising: they ban peaceful expressions of popular grievances and political dissent, marginalise youth and maintain a favourable environment for radicalisation and violent extremism.
Egypt has become one of the biggest prisons for journalists in the world, with 26 reporters behind bars as of today. A new media law adopted in December 2016 aiming at regulating all media outlets gives more power to the executive, thus diminishing the hope for independent media in the future. A second media law has yet to be drafted on press freedom. The new terrorism law adopted in August 2015 bans the dissemination of information that contradicts the government accounts of military attacks.
The silencing of the Egyptian human rights community will leave the victims of unlawful detention, enforced disappearance or torture by the authorities, without support. Further, civil society offers one of very few arenas for Egyptian women to actively participate in the public sphere. High-profile independent women’s rights organisations like Nazra for Feminist Studies and CEWLA provide essential services to survivors of violence and marginalised women, and play a key role in holding the government to account regarding implementation of the National Strategy for the Elimination of Violence against Women in Egypt.
We therefore urge you to ask the Egyptian authorities to address the following issues:
- The closing of the foreign funding case (no 173/2011) and the holding of a genuine dialogue with established and independent human rights groups about the status of civil society;
- Any new legislation to replace the current Civic Associations Law (no 84/2002) should be drafted in full respect of Egypt’s constitutional framework and its international legal commitments to uphold the right to freedom of association; these norms require Egypt to definitively abandon the new NGO law adopted by Parliament in November 2016;
- Concrete steps must be taken to reopen the public sphere in Egypt, in particular by enacting and enforcing the repeal of Egypt’s 1914 Assembly Law (abrogated by Parliament in 1928), and by amending related laws and decrees such as the 2013 Protest Law in accordance with constitutionally-guaranteed rights to freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly, and with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. All individuals detained or sentenced for exercising their right to these freedoms, including human rights defenders, democracy activists and media professionals, must be unconditionally released;
- Egyptian authorities should stop harassing and targeting women rights defenders as they play a key role in fighting against gender-based violence in Egypt and promoting equality for all;
- The second media law that has yet to be drafted should be done in full respect of Egypt’s Constitution, suppressing any freedom-stripping punishments over publishing cases, also ensuring the respect and tolerance of all political and intellectual opinions.
We would appreciate receiving a response to this letter, as well as feedback on the concerns raised with President al-Sisi and the responses provided by the Egyptian authorities.
Mr Michel Tubiana
EuroMed Rights President
Mr Bahey eldin Hassan
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) Director
Dr Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah
CIVICUS Secretary General & CEO
Front Line Defenders Executive Director
Mr Gerald Staberock
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) Secretary General
Mr Stephen McInerney
Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) Executive Director
Ms Sophie Busson
Reporters Without Borders Head of Advocacy
Dr Nancy Okail
Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy Executive Director
Ms Sara AbuGhazal
Women Human Rights Defenders Coalition in the Middle East and North Africa Regional Coordinator