Joint open letter - PEN condemns the Egyptian authorities’ crackdown on freedom of expression
November 24, 2017
Available in Arabic
To: His Excellency Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Re: Call for action to condemn the Egyptian authorities’ crackdown on freedom of expression
Mr High Commissioner,
We, the undersigned organisations, are writing to express our great concern about the current human rights situation in Egypt.
Four years ago today, Egypt’s anti-protest law was signed, restricting the right to free assembly to such an extent that the mere planning of a demonstration has been criminalised.
This law remains one element of a repressive legislative arsenal denying Egyptian citizens their rights to freedom of opinion, expression, association, and peaceful assembly, under the pretext of maintaining stability and countering terrorism.
The Media and Press Law of 26 December 2016 constitutes an unprecedented attack on press freedom, the NGO Law has made it impossible for civil society to operate safely, while the Anti-Terrorism Law has been used to impose travel bans and asset freezes on journalists, human rights defenders and other peaceful activists.
These laws act as powerful tools in the hands of the security forces, which carry out the most severe violations of human rights on a daily basis, and in a climate of impunity: summary executions, abductions followed by secret detentions and enforced disappearances, torture, rape, arbitrary arrests, unfair trials before civilian and military courts leading to heavy prison sentences, including the death penalty.
The authorities have been resorting to these severe violations in a systematic fashion in order to instil fear within society and to silence any form of dissent by discouraging individuals from speaking out. Those targeted include students, professors, trade unionists, journalists, lawyers, human rights defenders, political opponents and other peaceful activists.
In addition to these attacks against the liberty and physical integrity of its citizens, the Egyptian authorities have imposed widespread online censorship and surveillance. Since May 2017, more than 400 websites – including those of news outlets and human rights organisations – have been blocked in an attempt to suppress reports which contradict the state narrative on the human rights situation in the country.
We believe this repressive apparatus, established under the pretext of ensuring stability, is not only counter-productive, but its very existence permits abuses that go against the human rights principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the latter of which Egypt has been party to since 1982.
Mr High Commissioner, as we near the 70th anniversary of the UDHR, the Egyptian authorities must be reminded of their commitment to ensure “freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want”. Such freedoms have been qualified as the “highest aspiration of the common people” by the UDHR. The Egyptian people are no exception, and they deserve your strongest support and attention.
Mr High Commissioner, your mandate gives you the authority to engage in a dialogue with all governments to secure respect for all human rights. We believe your support is crucial to ensure that the people of Egypt enjoy “the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family” proclaimed 70 years ago.
Given the extreme gravity of these human rights abuses, we urge you to publicly and strongly condemn these violations of the rights to freedom of opinion, expression, association and peaceful assembly, as well as the attacks on the liberty and integrity of Egyptian citizens. We kindly request that you call upon the authorities to put an end to these violations and establish the necessary prevention and accountability mechanisms to avoid their repetition.
The undersigned organisations:
- Adalah Center for Rights & Freedoms
- Alkarama Foundation
- ARTICLE 19
- Committee for Justice
- Egyptian Coordination of Rights and Freedoms
- El Nadim Center against Torture and Violence
- EuroMed Rights
- Front Line Defenders
- Index on Censorship
- PEN International
- World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)