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Civil society face new repressive laws

International NGOs would not be allowed to settle and activate in Egypt without prior authorisation. Receiving foreign government funding, directly or indirectly, would be flatly prohibited

Last week, and in the aftermath of mounting political tensions and street violence shaking the country, the Egyptian Ministry of Justice announced a new draft Law on Civil Associations and Foundations and a draft law on demonstrations for consideration and approval by the government.

The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN), the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation against Torture (OMCT) are deeply disturbed that such repressive legislation should be taken by the Egyptian authorities in an attempt to muzzle dissenting voices and gag public freedoms in the country.

This most disquieting development comes in a context where public authorities have been meeting street protests with excessive use of force entailing tear gas and rubber bullets, leaving over60 dead and dozens of wounded over the past weeks. Widespread criticism from the media and Human Rights organisations alike, have been met with defamation and trials, and legal moves attempting to criminalise such criticism.

Our organisations are particularly worried that the Egyptian government aims at institutionalising and legalising repressive practices that have not changed since the Mubarak era.

If ratified, the law on demonstrations would blankly criminalise peaceful protest movements, by prohibiting any disturbance “of security or public order, prohibiting the hindrance to citizens’ interests, or the blocking of roads and other means of transport, obstructing traffic, or attacking personal property, or hindering the freedom to work.”[1] It would alsoresult in justifying use of excessive force by security forces in dispersing demonstrations.

The bill on associations and foundations, currently tabled for discussion by the Egyptian government, would leave only a dramatically-shrunken space for NGOs and other Civil Society Organisations to operate in Egypt, by virtually “nationalising” civil organisations.[2]

This draft law grants indeed broad powers to a “steering committee” composed of representatives from several ministries with heavy presence of the security apparatus.

In contravention with the requirement of ‘notification’, it mandates ‘registration’ of all NGOs and foundations. It grants this committee the authority to define the associations’ objectives, interfere in their activities, and authorise or not foreign funding based on the type of activities.

International NGOs would not be allowed to settle and activate in Egypt without prior authorisation. Receiving foreign government funding, directly or indirectly, would be flatly prohibited for all CSOs, threatening the means of subsistence of many associations, in particular human rights organisations, who depend on public grants.

Finally and worryingly, this draft law provides with “imprisonment for a term of not less than one year” and fines of up to £E 100,000 for a wide range of violations of the law, including "aiding" a foreign CSO "in the exercise of any activity in Egypt" or "field research or opinion polls”... without the approval of the concerned authorities.

Our organisations are alarmed that the Egyptian authorities should resort to such authoritarian-like measures instead of opening the gates to genuine dialogue with civil society and all the political forces at play in the country with a view to achieve outcomes conductive of human rights and democracy. Indeed these repressive policies do not help building confidence between government and civil society as needed in order to build a successful dialogue and find a way out from the on-going political crisis.

We therefore urge the Egyptian authorities to:

· Withdraw without delay the above-mentioned drafts and elaborate a new law on civil organisations or adopt the draft proposed by 56 Egyptian organisations, limiting constraints on CSOs operating in the country, in conformity with Egypt’s self-assumed obligations under international law ;

· Engage in a genuine nation-wide dialogue, inclusive of Human Rights organisations and all political forces at play in the country and conductive to the respect of human rights and democracy;

· Stop the assaults against protesters and showcase real efforts to combat impunity for the crimes committed against protestors and establish a robust institutional framework to ease the country’s transition to democracy.

Our organisations also ask that the European Union:

· Fully abides by its declared change of policy with its Southern Mediterranean neighbours after the Arab Spring and urgently translate its commitments regarding democracy, rule of law, respect of human rights and gender equality into concrete actions.

· Strongly urges the Egyptian authority to withdraw the two up-cited draft laws, and to engage in sincere consultation with civil society to set a legal framework conducive to freedom of association and peaceful assembly conform to international standards

· Makes clear to the Egyptian government that the EU’s level of political, financial and technical engagement will depend on the level of progress with regard to democratisation, human rights and gender equality; and be based on an objective and accurate assessment of the situation on the ground.

For more information please contact:

EMHRN: Bérénice Michard, [email protected], Tel: +33 148 18 06 86/Shaimaa Abou Elkhir, [email protected], Tel: +201001077207/Hayet Zeghiche, [email protected], Tel: +32 488 08 00 41

FIDH: Arthur Manet, Tel : +33 6 72 28 42 94 /Audrey Couprie , Tel : +33 1 43 55 14 12; [email protected]

OMCT: Delphine Reculeau , [email protected] /Alexandra Kossin, [email protected], Tel : + 41 22 809 49 39