A prominent investigative journalist, a campaigning lawyer and an education rights activist saw their assets frozen on 17 September by an Egyptian court, as part of a long-running attempt by the government to stifle human rights activism in the country. Hossam Bahgat, Gamal Eid and Abdel Hafiz Tayel are among a group of campaigners who have been told by judges that they cannot spend money in their bank accounts, while organisations they work with have been told to shut down. The Hisham Mubarak Law Centre, Right to Education Centre and the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies are among the organisations affected by the ruling.
This decision is just the beginning of a series of repressive measures against the human rights movement”, said education rights activist Abdel Hafiz Tayel after the judgement.
The Egyptian authorities are also using travel bans on human rights campaigners. In May this year, Mohamed Zaraa, programme director at the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, was prevented from travelling to Tunis. This followed travel bans on Gamal Eid and Hossam Bahgat, in connection with a 2011 court case over the alleged receipt of foreign funds.
This case began with judges accusing 43 activists from Egypt, the USA, Germany, Norway, Lebanon and Palestine, working for non-profit organisations in Egypt, of establishing an NGO and receiving foreign funding without a license. Receiving funds from abroad is illegal in Egypt, and carries stiff penalties. It is also almost impossible to legally establish an NGO, particularly in fields which the government considers sensitive, such as human rights.
The latest court ruling has sparked criticism from a wide range of political groups and NGOs. Eleven parties, organisations and the Freedoms Committee of the Egyptian Journalists’ Union called on the authorities to stop targeting human rights defenders, emphasizing that an independent civil society is the foundation of democratic life. They also called for an end to the harassment of human rights organisations and their staff and demanded that prosecutors drop the “foreign funding” case.
Campaigners say they are not daunted by the ruling. “We will continue to defend human rights”, said Gamal Eid after the court’s decision to seize his assets.