Letter to the British Prime Minister ahead of Egypt’s President Sisi’s visit to the UK

Egypt, Justice and the Rule of Law, Open Letter, Shrinking Space for Civil Society, United Kingdom, Women’s rights and gender justice

EuroMed Rights has sent the following letter to the British Prime Minister David Cameron, urging him to be clear ahead of Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah Sisi that UK/Egypt relations must depend on Egyptian authorities ceasing to systematically violate international human rights.

Dear Prime Minister,

EuroMed Rights writes to you in advance of your scheduled meeting with Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah Sisi to urge you to make clear in your meeting with him, and publicly, that the nature and extent of the United Kingdom’s relations with Egypt going forward will depend on the Egyptian authorities putting an end to policies that systematically violate Egypt’s obligations under international human rights law as well as the Egyptian Constitution of 2014.

Since July 2013, authorities have by their own admission detained more than 22,000 people. Egyptian rights organisations have credibly documented a much higher number of at least 41,000 persons who were arrested, indicted or sentenced between July 2013 and May 2014, including 300 lawyers. Many have been detained solely on the basis of alleged membership in or sympathy with the Muslim Brotherhood. Hundreds of others have been arrested for participating in peaceful demonstrations, in violation of the repressive November 2013 assembly law. Those detained for violating the assembly law include some of Egypt’s leading pro-democracy activists and a number of human rights defenders. President Sisi and other officials frequently characterise dissent as a threat to national security. Egypt’s judges and prosecutors have contributed to a further politicisation of the criminal justice system and a lack of respect for international fair trial standards in proceedings involving political dissidents.

Another key area of concern is the Egyptian government’s efforts to restrict the legitimate activities of independent NGOs, including human rights organisations that criticise government policies. The 2002 Law on Associations currently in force allows the government to shut down such organisations at will, freeze their assets, confiscate property, reject persons nominated to their governing boards, and block foreign funding. Authorities frequently deny the applications of groups seeking to register under the law, which mandates prison terms for members of those groups for what then become “unauthorised activities.” In September 2014, President Sisi amended by decree the Penal Code to raise the penalty for accepting foreign funding with intent to “harm the national interest” to life in prison and a 500,000 EGP fine (about 40,500 GBP). In November 2014, Egyptian authorities threatened to close down any organisations conducting NGO-type activities while registered as a law firm or civil company, as many are to avoid the 2002 law’s onerous restrictions. In the face of broad criticism from many countries as well as international organisations and United Nations rights bodies, the government refrained from implementing this threat but has continued more quietly to intimidate and harass individuals and their organisations with travel bans, investigations, and denial of permits for public events.

Women continue to face discrimination in law and in practice, including high levels of gender-based domestic, public and state violence. A June 2014 amendment to the penal code to combat sexual harassment requires further improvement and incidents of sexual harassment are ongoing. Assaults by mobs of men against women in Tahrir Square during President Sisi’s inauguration spurred his administration to promise action to combat violence against women, but promised additional measures have not yet materialised. The authorities have not taken serious measures to bring perpetrators of violence against women to justice, especially when they are from the security forces.

Finally, the United Kingdom should freeze the transfer of all arms and security related items that could be used for repression until Egyptian authorities have carried out judicial and impartial investigations into the killings of hundreds of protesters by police and security forces, and bring those responsible to justice. This includes the infamous and bloody August 14, 2013, clearing of two largely peaceful sit-ins in Cairo organised by opponents of the military takeover, in which security forces killed more than 1,000 protesters in a single day.
We encourage you to make clear to President Sisi that closer British ties with Egypt depend on his government’s taking steps to address these concerns. Specifically, we ask you to urge President Sisi to commit to the following steps:

  • Repeal the November 2013 law (Law 107/2013) severely restricting the right to peaceful assembly or amend it to bring it in line with international human rights law and standards and release immediately and unconditionally those jailed solely for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression and assembly;
  • Release or retry before civilian courts whose proceedings meet international fair trial standards those sentenced in mass trials or those jailed solely for their alleged membership in or sympathy with the Muslim Brotherhood;
  • Establish a moratorium on executions with the view of abolishing the death penalty;
  • Reform the 2002 Law on Associations in a way that is respectful of international human rights standards after dialogue with relevant stakeholders;
  • Put in place effective measures to end sexual and gender-based violence in private and public spheres, as well as by the state, in consultation with independent women’s rights groups.

Thank you for your consideration of these important concerns.

Sincerely,

Michel Tubiana
EuroMed Rights President