Egyptian Human Rights Defender faces years of imprisonment
'The case of Hafez Abu Sa'ada, General Secretary of the Egyptian
Organization for Human Rights (EOHR), clearly suggests that the Egyptian
authorities are trying to muzzle human rights defenders in Egypt,' the
international human rights organisations said.
The organisations further noted that this alarming development occurs
as Egyptian human rights organisations await with concern the
implementation of the controversial NGO law of 1999 regulating status and
activities of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Egypt.
Hafez Abu Sa'ada has been charged with accepting a cheque of about
$25,000 from the British embassy in 1998 without giving required
notification to the authorities. According to official sources, he will be
charged under military decree No 4/1992, issued by the Prime Minister in
1992, which carries a term of imprisonment of at least seven years.
'The charges against Hafez Abu Sa'ada appear to be connected to the
EOHR's critical reporting on cases of human rights violations in Egypt,'
the human rights organisations stressed.
First investigations into the case took place a few weeks after the
EOHR had published a highly sensitive report on human rights violations
which had occurred in summer 1998 in the predominantly Coptic Christian
village of al-Kushh, Upper Egypt.
The initial charges against the EOHR were based on 'accepting funds
from a foreign country with the aim of carrying out acts that would harm
Egypt, receiving donations without obtaining permission from the competent
authorities [and of] disseminating false information abroad that would harm
the country's national interests'.
Investigations lead to Hafez Abu Sa'ada's detention between 1 December
and 6 December 1998 when he was released on bail after widespread protest
by human rights organisations in Egypt and abroad. At the World Conference
in Paris to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights in December 1998 he arrived after five days' detention in Tora
Prison, Cairo. He was held in a cell of 2m by 2m with his head shaved and
in prison clothes.
Amnesty International, Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network, Human
Rights Watch, International Federation of Human Rights, Lawyers Committee
for Human Rights, Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders,
World Organization Against Torture are calling upon the Egyptian
* to drop the criminal prosecution against Hafez Abu Sa'ada
* to stop the use of exceptional (Emergency) Supreme State Security
Courts (ESSSC) - which allow no right of appeal
* to ensure that human rights defenders in Egypt can work in an
environment without interference and harassment in accordance with the
spirit of the UN Human Rights Defenders Declaration of 1998
Military decree No 4/1992 is based on the state of emergency legislation
and prohibits the collection or receipt of donations without prior
approval of the authorities. Article 2 of that decree stipulates
imprisonment of a minimum of seven years for violations of the decree.
Egypt has been ruled under a state of emergency since 1981. The state of
emergency, which has been regularly extended by presidential decree,
expires in May 2000.
The EOHR has been operating under difficult conditions for many years.
Since its establishment in 1985 the organisation has not been able to
obtain official registration and has continued to operate 'in formation'.
The EOHR has recently applied for official registration under the new NGO
law of 1999.
The Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights (EOHR) reported in January
2000 that it had learned by coincidence of an administrative decree issued
in September 1999 which imposes a ban on the organisation's journal 'Huquq
al-Insan' (Human Rights) as well as on several publications of other
institutions. The ban on the EOHR's publication has so far not been
enforced, but became known while the EOHR was preparing a report on an
incident of sectarian violence which occurred in the village of al-Kushh at
the beginning of this year and left more than 20 people dead.
In May 1999 the Egyptian Parliament passed a new law, Law No 153/1999,
regulating the status of civil associations and institutions in Egypt. The
law was criticized by national and international human rights organization
for giving the authorities far-reaching controls over non governmental
organizations' (NGO) activities, including the work of Egyptian human
rights groups. Cause for serious concern included that the law provides a
set of criminal penalties, including a maximum sentence of one year in
prison, for offenses that might amount to no more than the exercise of
freedom of association.
The UN Human Rights Defenders Declaration of 1998 recognizes the
rights and responsibilities of human rights defenders and requires
governments to create an environment in which they can work without
interference and harassment. Article 6 of the Declaration states:
'Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others:
(a) To know, seek, obtain, receive and hold information about all human
rights and fundamental freedoms, including having access to information as
to how these rights and freedoms are given effect in domestic legislative,
judicial or administrative systems;
(b) As provided in human rights and other applicable international
instruments, freely to publish, impart or disseminate to others views,
information and knowledge of all human rights and fundamental freedom'