63 rights groups call for immediate end to Egypt’s crackdown on activists

Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt should immediately end a crackdown on freedom of association, independent groups, and peaceful dissent, 63 organizations, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, said today.

Sixty-three organizations, including Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International, have called on Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to “immediately” end the country’s long-running crackdown on rights defenders and opposition activists.

The statement, released on Tuesday, called on Sisi to “end a crackdown on freedom of association, independent groups, and peaceful dissent.” 

“We share the assessment of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention that arbitrary detention is a systematic problem in Egypt. Since Sisi came to power, Egyptian security forces, with the complicity of prosecutors and judges, have arbitrarily arrested and detained thousands of people on the basis of unfounded terrorism-related charges,” the statement read.

It went on to say that those arrested by Sisi’s government “include human rights defenders, religious minority rights activists, peaceful protesters, journalists, academics, artists, lawyers, opposition politicians, and relatives of dissidents forced into exile.”

The statement highlighted some of those who had been held unjustly, including NGO directors such as Mohamed al-Baqer and Ezzat Ghoniem, and lawyers Mahienour al-Massry, Haytham Mohamdeen and Hoda Abdelmoniem, among others.

A 15-year prison sentence given in absentia to Bahey Eldin Hassan, founder and director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIIHRS), was condemned as “outrageous.”

The organizations also criticized the country’s cruel and inhumane prison conditions, and the “deliberate denial of adequate medical care that has led or contributed to preventable deaths in custody and serious damage to prisoners’ health.”

In 2020 alone, at least 35 people in custody in Egypt died following medical complications, including Shady Habash, a young video director who died in Cairo’s Tora prison after spending more than two years in pre-trial detention.

The NGOs’ statement further condemned Egypt’s broad definition of terrorism as well as gender-based discrimination within the country.

According to the statement, Egyptian authorities “have not only failed to address pervasive sexual and gender-based violence, but have also targeted women’s human rights defenders and campaigners against sexual violence and harassment through arrests, harassment, threats, and other reprisals.”

Last year, five female Egyptian TikTok influencers were jailed on charges of “violating public morals.”

Since Sisi seized power in 2013, hundreds of journalists, activists, lawyers, and intellectuals have been arrested.

Egypt has recently been under fire for its treatment of members of human rights groups, who have also been subjected to travel bans, asset freezes, and their addition to a “terrorist list.”

Earlier this year, a UN rights expert condemned Egypt for targeting journalists, human rights defenders and their families, and called on authorities to stop silencing dissent.

The country has also often been accused of using human rights defenders as bargaining chips, with HRW estimating that more than 60,000 political prisoners have been languishing in Egyptian jails since Sisi became president in 2014.

The statement signatories were:
Access Now
Amnesty International
ANKH (Arab Network for Knowledge about Human rights)
Association Beity (Tunisia)
Association for Juridical Studies on Immigration (ASGI)
Association for the Defense of Human Rights in Morocco (ADDHOM)
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
CELS Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales
Center for Reproductive Rights
Center of Studies and Initiatives for International Solidarity (CEDETIM, France)
Committee for Justice
Committee for the Respect of Liberties and Human Rights in Tunisia (CRLDHT)
DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
Democratic Association of Tunisians in France (ADTF)
Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN)
Dignity – Danish Institute Against Torture
Egyptian Human Rights Forum
Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR)
EgyptWide (Egyptian-Italian Initiative for Rights and Freedoms)
English PEN
EuroMed Rights
Freedom House
Front Line Defenders
Geneva Bridge Association
Global Voices
Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
Hassan Saadaoui Association for the Defense of Democracy and Equality (Tunisia)
Human Rights Watch (HRW)
Initiative Franco-égyptienne pour les Droits et les Libertés
International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
Karapatan Alliance Philippines Inc.
Lawyers for Lawyers (L4L)
Legal Resources Centre
Mawjoudin Initiative (Tunisia)
MENA Rights Group
Minority Rights Group International (MRG)
Mwatana for Human Rights
Nachez (Dissonance), Tunisia
The National Union for Tunisian Journalists (SNJT)
Odhikar, Bangladesh
PEN Norway
People in Need
Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED)
Réseau des Organizations de la Société Civile pour l’Observation et le Suivi des Élections en Guinée (ROSE)
Robert F Kennedy Human Rights
South East Europe Media Organization (SEEMO)
The Freedom Initiative
Tunisian Association of Democratic Women
Tunisian Association for Democracy and Civic State (AVDDH)
The Tunisian Association for the Defense of Academic Values (ATDVU)
The Tunisian Association for the Defense of Individual Liberties (ATDLI)
Tunisian Center for Press Freedom (CTLP)
Tunisian Coalition Against Death Penalty
The Tunisian Federation for Citizenship on both Shores (FTCR)
The Tunisian Human Rights League (LTDH)
UIA-IROL (Institute for the Rule of Law of the International Association of Lawyers)
Vigilance for Democracy in Tunisia (Belgium)