On June 23, Amnesty International—along with IFEX, Human Rights Watch, FIDH, and seven other organizations—issued a joint statement on the “existential threat” faced by Egyptian civil society. In recent months, the statement reads:
Many people working with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have been detained and ill-treated, charged with offences under the draconian Counter-terrorism law, or subject to a judicial request to ban them from travel and freeze their assets.
Digital rights defenders are amongst those who have been targeted. In March’s Digital Citizen, a monthly review published by EFF and five other organizations, we’ve covered the judicial harassment of and travel bans imposed on Gamal Eid and Hossam Baghat, two prominent advocates whose organizations—ANHRI and EIPR—have been instrumental in the fight for human rights in Egypt. More recently, OTF fellow Wafa Ben Hassine published a paper that demonstrates how four Arab countries—including Egypt—use legal means to silence freedom of expression and its advocates online.
It is not just the defenders of free speech, but free speech itself being attacked. In February, three young Coptic students were sentenced to five years in prison, and another to five years in juvenile custody, for a video in which they mocked members of the Islamic State. According to Ahram Online, “In the video, the boys are seen mocking members of the Islamic State group beheading an individual after the militants finish Islamic prayers.”
Just this week, Human Rights Watch (HRW) called upon Egyptian authorities to drop charges against six young men whose satirical videos have raised the government’s ire. According to HRW:
Prosecutors are investigating the men, of a group called Street Children, after the Interior Ministry’s National Security Agency alleged that they are “instigators against the ruling regime” who plotted to use “the internet, social media sites and YouTube” to spread video clips that would undermine the country’s stability by inciting citizens to protest.
As has historically been the case, Egypt’s strategy seems to be to stifle the loudest voices first, hoping to spread a chill throughout civil society. But as we’ve seen from the state’s decade-long persecution of Alaa Abd El Fattah, and the reaction to it, Egyptian civil society isn’t easily quashed.
Nevertheless, we share the concerns expressed in the joint statement and call on the international community to demand an end to violations against digital and human rights defenders. As the statement reads, “Individuals and independent human rights groups must be able to work freely, without intimidation, harassment or hindrance from the authorities simply for doing their human rights work.”