Egypt: Police officers accused of snooping on COP27 activists

The United Nations says it is investigating reportedly misconduct by Egyptian police officers providing security at this year’s international climate talks.

This follows accusations that attendees of events at the German pavilion for the COP27 summit were photographed and filmed after Germany hosted an event there with the sister of a jailed Egyptian pro-democracy activist, Alaa Abdel Fattah, who also holds U.K. citizenship.

Germany has lodged a complaint with the Egyptian government over unwanted monitoring by security officials at the COP27 World Climate Conference, the German Press Agency (DPA) reported Sunday.

Egyptian security staff are reported to have monitored and filmed events held at the German pavilion inside the summit venue in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheikh.

DPA said the embassy has called on Egyptian authorities to stop the monitoring activity.

“We expect all participants in the U.N. climate conference to be able to work and negotiate under safe conditions,” Germany’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “This is not just true for the German but for all delegations, as well as representatives of civil society and the media.”

In a statement on Sunday, the U.N. climate office confirmed that some of the security officers working in the part of the venue designated as United Nations territory come from the host country, Egypt, reported The Associated Press.

The German embassy in Cairo has accused Egyptian security officials of monitoring and filming events at the German pavilion in the climate conference venue. Berlin has used its presence to highlight human rights issues.

This was due to the “scale and complexity of providing security at a large scale event” such as the COP27 climate talks, the global body said. It added that their work takes place “under the direction of the operations of the U.N. Department for Safety and Security (UN DSS).”

“The security officers provided for this COP by the host country are from the national police,” it said. “They are here to assist in fortifying the venue and ensuring the safety and security of all participants.”

“UN DSS has been made aware of allegations of the Code of Conduct violations and is investigating these reports,” the climate office told The AP.

Germany’s Foreign Ministry said Saturday that it was in contact with Egyptian authorities about the incidents at its pavilion.

“We expect all participants in the U.N. climate conference to be able to work and negotiate under safe conditions,” it said in a statement. “This is not just true for the German but for all delegations, as well as representatives of civil society and the media.”

Egyptian officials didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Egypt’s hosting of the international summit has trained a spotlight on its human rights record.

The government has engaged in a widespread crackdown on dissent in recent years, detaining some 60,000 people, many without trial, according to a 2019 tally by Human Rights Watch.

Under Egypt’s Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, authorities have also intimidated and barred independent media and local organizations from operating. A prominent imprisoned activist, Alaa Abdel-Fattah, started a hunger and water strike on the first day of the conference to call attention to pressure for his own and other prisoners’ release.

Abdel-Fattah rose to fame during the 2011 pro-democracy uprisings that spread through the Middle East, and in Egypt he amplified calls for an end to police brutality. He has spent a total of nine years behind bars and is currently serving a 5-year sentence for re-sharing a Facebook post about the death of another detainee.

On Sunday, Abdel-Fattah’s lawyer Khaled Ali said in a social media post that he had not been allowed to visit the activist that afternoon, despite having obtained permission from the country’s public prosecutor. He said he would return on Monday morning.

The family say they have not received proof that Alaa is still alive since he stopped drinking water on Nov. 6, and have not received any communications from him since Oct. 31, when he announced his hunger and water strike.

As well as highlighting the climate crisis, Germany’s conference area has hosted events focused on the human rights situation in Egypt.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty Internation are among the participants, along with Egyptian activist Sanaa Saif, a film editor who has served prison terms in Egypt.

At times sharp criticism of Egypt has been voiced.

DPA said Egyptian officials arrived in the German area, took photographs and videos and disrupted proceedings with lengthy interventions on at least two occasions.

While tensions rose, there were no violent incidents.

Egypt denies

Egyptian security sources rejected the accusations, telling DPA that the security of foreign seminars and activities was a task for the United Nations team at COP27, according to DW.

Their role as Egyptians was restricted to security outside the halls and in the city, they said.

However, participants from other countries told DPA that Egyptian staff had insisted on being present during closed sessions.

“It is very obvious that the Egyptian authorities are monitoring human rights activities,” Hossam Bahgat, founder of the Egyptian human rights organization EIPR, told DPA.

“The only reason they haven’t used physical violence yet is that we’re in a UN-controlled area,” Bahgat added.

The UN admitted that some security officers were from the national police and said it was investigating the complaints.

German delegation sources told DPA that they had warned speakers of potential security risks that could arise from their appearances at the conference.

Egypt has also deployed plain-clothed security officials to climate protests near the summit site.

Freedom of speech and freedom of assembly remain massively curtailed in Egypt, with al-Sisi’s government accused of maintaining an iron grip on the country.

Thousands of people, including human rights activists, journalists, students, opposition politicians, businesspeople and peaceful protesters have been arbitrarily detained.

Many are subjected to unfair trials and mistreatment or torture. Some have died in deplorable prison conditions.

Neither HRW nor Amnesty have offices in Egypt and a block on the HRW website, in place for years, was only lifted a few days ago.

Human rights activists are concerned that the suppression of critical voices will return as soon as the conference closes next week.

During a visit at the start of the week, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz called for the release of Alaa Abdel Fattah, an Egyptian-British activist who has served lengthy prison terms and is currently on hunger strike while in jail.