Human Rights Watch criticises Egyptian authorities over treatment of local rights organisations

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Human Rights Watch has said that the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, one of Egypt’s leading independent human rights organisations, announced on January 10 that it had decided to stop operating after nearly 18 years, citing a series of threats, violent attacks, and arrests.

The organisation said that new laws impose severe restrictions on the work of civil society organisations and severe government oversight. The laws also allow government agencies to forcibly close any unregistered active organisation and freeze its assets.

The organisation’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, Joe Stork, said that the closure of the Arab Network is a huge loss for the Egyptian human rights movement and its international partners. This, he added, proves that the government’s goal is to silence critical independent civil society. The Arabic Network announced that it received a letter in October 2021 from an official at the Ministry of Solidarity saying that it could not register under its name and had to choose a new name.

The official also insisted that freedom of expression and the press, and prison conditions, are not among the activities that the ministry and security authorities would be willing to approve, and that the network should instead work on “normal issues.” Gamal Eid, founder of the Arab Network, said: “After this honourable history, which we are proud of, we refuse to turn into a complicit institution that works on unimportant issues.” Human Rights Watch noted that the National Security’s brutal campaign of intimidation and harassment contributed to the network’s decision.

The security apparatus had summoned several members of the organisation for interrogation to recruit them as informants. Amr Imam, one of the network’s lawyers, was arrested in 2019, and is still being held in pretrial detention on trumped-up charges of joining a terrorist organisation, exceeding the maximum limit stipulated in the law to be held on remand.

Another member of the team was arrested in May 2020 on baseless charges and was only released in August 2021. Three other employees also left the network for fear of the security forces.

Human Rights Watch reported that Gamal Eid was physically assaulted twice in 2019. He received threats and 12 men beat him, threatened him with guns, and threw paint on him. The circumstances indicated that the security forces were involved in all the above. Eid has been subject to a travel ban and an asset freeze since 2016.