Thursday, January 05, 2012

Egypt: Security forces launch unprecedented raids on human rights organisations

Source: IFEX

4 January 2012

Egyptian security forces last week launched unprecedented armed raids on a series of high profile human rights and pro-democracy organisations, including the Cairo branch of IFEX member Freedom House, report the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR), the Arabic Network of Human Rights Information (ANHRI) and Freedom House.

Freedom House immediately condemned the 28 December raids, claiming they were worse than what took place under Egypt's former dictator Hosni Mubarak.

"The raids… represent an escalation of repression unheard of even during the Mubarak regime, said David J. Kramer, president of Freedom House."[They] are the clearest indication yet that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces [SCAF]… has no intention of permitting the establishment of genuine democracy and is attempting to scapegoat civil society for its own abysmal failure to manage Egypt's transition effectively," said Kramer.

Egyptian groups that were raided include the Arab Center for Independence of Justice and Legal Professions (ACIJP) and the Budgetary and Human Rights Observatory, report ANHRI, CIHRS and EOHR.

The three IFEX members based in Egypt fear that they too could be targeted by the country's military rulers in the next few days, because they are among the most outspoken rights groups.

According to the Middle East News Agency, security forces targeted 17 Egyptian and international groups so far, as part of an intensive investigation into foreign funding of Egyptian civic society organisations and human rights groups. Other targets included the U.S.-government funded National Democratic Institute - founded by former secretary of state Madeleine Albright - and the International Republican Institute, whose chairman is Republican senator John McCain, reports the "Guardian". Both organisations are affiliated with the two major U.S. political parties.

During the raids riot police held staff incommunicado and confiscated cell phones, laptops, documents and funds. Freedom House said the raid on its offices came just three days after it formally tried to register.

These actions come in the context of "an intensive campaign by the Egyptian government to dismantle civil society through a politically-motivated legal campaign aimed at preventing 'illegal foreign funding' of civil society operations in Egypt," said Kramer.

In recent months, SCAF has accused local non-governmental organisations of receiving money from abroad, and has argued that the recent unrest in the country is by "foreign hands." Yet SCAF itself receives US$1.3 billion from the U.S. annually, says Freedom House.

According to the IFEX members, the law being used to pursue the groups is from the Mubarak era, which the government had said it intended to repeal. For years, the IFEX members based in Egypt have been fighting for the law to be abolished - and have even drafted a new law to regulate non-governmental organisations. Read its main components here.

The current law meticulously regulates the activities, management and finances of civic society organisations, making it easy to harass or close them down on some technicality if the authorities take a dislike to them.

With civic society groups receiving little funding from local sources to survive, they often turn to western donors or the UN, says the "Guardian". This gives the authorities another means to control them, by blocking transfers of money from abroad, or an excuse to crack down on them - by claiming they are part of a foreign plot to destabilise the country, the "Guardian" added.

The raids by Egypt's generals, apparently keen to play up to anti-U.S. and nationalist feelings in the country, will be seen as highly provocative in Washington. Freedom House is calling on the Obama administration to review its aid commitment. "In the current fiscal environment, the United States must not subsidise authoritarianism in Egypt while the Egyptian government is preventing NGOs from implementing democracy and human rights projects subsidised by the US taxpayer," said Charles Dunne, director of Middle East and North Africa programmes for Freedom House.