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Egypt: Planned asset freezes are government's latest tool to eradicate civil society

The Egyptian authorities are expected to freeze the assets of two prominent human rights defenders and their family members tomorrow as part of an investigation into foreign funding of NGOs. The move is yet another blatant attempt to paralyse civil society in Egypt that leaves no doubt as to the government’s resolve to crush freedom of expression and association, Amnesty International said today.

According to a news outlet close to the government, the Cairo Criminal Court will rule tomorrow on the freezing of assets and travel bans against human rights lawyer Gamal Eid, investigative journalist Hossam Bahgat, and two other unnamed persons, as well as members of their families.

Amnesty International's Deputy Director of Middle East and North Africa Said Boumedouha said

“The measures against Hossam Bahgat and Gamal Eid are arbitrary and punitive, imposed in response to their criticism of the deteriorating human rights situation in Egypt. Amnesty International urges the Egyptian government to refrain from imposing such measures, and to end its onslaught against human rights defenders and civil society.”

“The Egyptian authorities are abusing the justice system as part of their campaign to eradicate the last vestiges of civil society and silence critical voices. The international community must stand up for the rights of human rights defenders and independent civil society and pressure the Egyptian government to end this crackdown at once.

“The Egyptian authorities must halt the ongoing investigations into the foreign funding of NGOs and close the case. They must also draft a new law on associations that is in line with international standards and the Egyptian constitution and grant NGOs a reasonable grace period to register under this new law.”

Hossam Bahgat is the founder of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), an independent local human rights organization. He also writes for Mada Masr, an online news site where he has published a series of articles concerning the army and military trials. In November 2015 he was arrested by the military and detained for three days, apparently in response to one of these articles.

Gamal Eid is a human rights lawyer and the head of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, a non-profit organisation which advocates for freedom of expression in Egypt and the Middle East.

Both men discovered that the authorities have banned them from travelling abroad when they attempted to board separate flights last month. They had not previously been notified of the judicial orders and were not given any reasons why the travel bans were imposed.

They told Amnesty that they were not requested by the Criminal Court to attend tomorrow’s session and as such have been denied the right to defend themselves in court.

In recent months the Egyptian authorities have ramped up restrictions on rights organisations and over the past week have intensified investigations into the foreign funding of NGOs.

17 Egyptian NGOs raised their concerns about human rights in Egypt with the Human Rights Council in Geneva on 10 March. The High Commissioner for Human rights also delivered a statement on Egypt on the same day in which he condemned the deterioration of human rights in the country. Also on 10 March, the European Parliament issued a resolution calling for the suspension of security cooperation between EU states and Egypt, in light of the dire human rights situation in the country and the killing of an Italian student in Egypt.

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