Tags: ML | Egypt

Egypt Passes New Law Rights Groups Call "death Warrant"

Tuesday, 29 November 2016 03:05 PM

CAIRO (AP) — The Egyptian parliament on Tuesday voted in favor of a new law aimed at regulating non-governmental organizations but effectively gives security agencies extensive powers and the upper hand over the financing, registration, and activities of NGOs and rights groups.

The law, considered by rights groups as the most repressive for such organizations since the rule of President Hosni Mubarak, won a majority of the vote among lawmakers, mostly the president's supporters.

Under the law, which is yet to be ratified by the president, violators of administrative procedures such as receiving foreign funds or local donations of over 10,000 pounds, partnering with a foreign organization, relocating headquarters, and carrying out field research and surveys without permission, face up to five years in prison along with heavy fines of up to one million pounds (around $55,000).

Permits will be provided solely by a newly-created oversight body made up of several government agencies and security apparatuses such as the intelligence agency, and the ministries of defense and interior, effectively placing civil society at their mercy.

Since the overthrow of Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak in mass uprising in 2011, Egypt's rights groups have faced a heavy security crackdown and concerted state-media campaign that accused them of being architects of instability and advocates of regime change. They were denounced by the campaign for allegedly acting as a "fifth column" and a back door for western interests by receiving foreign funds and executing foreign agendas.

Just a few months after the uprising, security forces raided 17 offices of mostly foreign NGOs and referred 43 people, including American citizens, to courts but most of the defendants fled the country and were sentenced in absentia. This year, the authorities revived the same case and began a new episode of harassing rights groups' leaders, ordering asset freezes and travel bans. If found guilty of illegally receiving foreign funds, or other charges linked to harming national security, they would face sentences that could reach life imprisonment.

Since the military ouster of Egypt's Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in 2013 and the subsequent election of army-chief-turned-president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, Egypt has witnessed an unprecedented crackdown on opposition, mainly the Muslim Brotherhood group to which President Morsi belonged, and is now considered a terrorist organization.

Once the president ratifies the law, all existing rights groups and NGOs, estimated at around 50,000, will have to abide by its 89 provisions. Rights groups advocating against police abuses and defending freedom of speech will find themselves in the impossibly awkward position of seeking to obtain authorizations from the very security apparatuses whose practices they routinely condemn.

"There will be a massacre for the rights groups and NGOs," said Mohamed Zaree, manager of Egypt's oldest rights group, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies.

Rights groups have expressed concern over vague terms such as "harming national security" and "upsetting public order" that have used to justify imprisoning more civil rights activists and shut down NGOs.

Provision 14, for example, states: "it is banned ... to practice activities that cause disruption of national unity, national security, public order, and public morals."

Among the law's other provisions, charities and NGOs providing social services must adjust their agendas in accordance with that of the state for national development.

"This is inspired by the 1960s laws, where civil society was nationalized and turned into another branch from the government," said Zaree.

London-based rights group Amnesty International described the law as a "death warrant" for rights groups and called upon the president not to ratify it.

The United Nations expressed alarm at the new bill and said that it will turn local NGOs into "government puppets"

Maina Kiai, a Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, said in a statement that the bill's provisions violated international law and contradicted Egypt's own constitution.

"This bill proposes perhaps the worst restrictions on fundamental freedoms in Egypt since the 2011 uprisings," Kiai said. "It aims to destroy Egypt's foundation for peaceful, civic engagement at its very roots."

"Egyptian society stands at a critical fork in the road," Kiai said. "Civil society can't perform this function when the law reduces it to the role of the government's spokesperson."

Rights advocates said that the law was tailored in secrecy, and took only 48 hours to win an initial vote earlier this month before it was sent to the State Council to review legal clauses, which in return sent it back to parliament to for final approval. Heavy restrictions were left untouched.

"The current investigation will end the existing rights groups and the law will only lock the door for future ones to emerge," said Zaree.

Mohammed Abu-Hamed, a lawmaker and deputy head of the committee that drafted the law, defended it by saying the goal was to strike a balance between the needs of civil society and national security, which the current law has failed to achieve.

"The new law fills in the gap and protects the state from the dangers of harming national security," he said. Criminal penalties were needed to act as a deterrent, he added.

"What if an NGO receives money to use explosives?" he argued.

Lawmaker Haitham el-Hariri, who was among a handful of lawmakers who opposed the law, said that only a brief discussion took place amid a climate of "intimidation."

"Whoever opposed the law was automatically accused of working against the state's national security," he said, adding that pro-government lawmakers interrupted critics by saying the NGOs were receiving foreign funds to "destroy Egypt."

"The law is disastrous," el-Hariri said. "I told the head of the parliament: you are facing a historic responsibility and if you let this law pass, Egypt's reputation will be badly damaged."

© Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

   
1Like our page
2Share
MiddleEast
The Egyptian parliament on Tuesday voted in favor of a new law aimed at regulating non-governmental organizations but effectively gives security agencies extensive powers and the upper hand over the financing, registration, and activities of NGOs and rights groups.The law,...
ML,Egypt
951
2016-05-29
Tuesday, 29 November 2016 03:05 PM
Newsmax Media, Inc.
 
 

Newsmax, Moneynews, Newsmax Health, and Independent. American. are registered trademarks of Newsmax Media, Inc. Newsmax TV, and Newsmax World are trademarks of Newsmax Media, Inc.

NEWSMAX.COM
© Newsmax Media, Inc.
All Rights Reserved