Ten organisations renew their call for the immediate and unconditional release of Egyptian human rights defender Abdulrahman Tarek as he receives Index on Censorship’s Freedom of Expression Award
The government of Egypt refused to acknowledge the systematic and widespread attacks and restrictions against human rights defenders, and to receive visits by Special Rapporteurs on torture and human rights defenders.
While the Egyptian government accepted several recommendations on ensuring a safe and enabling environment for defenders and protecting civic space, it rejected all recommendations calling for the government to:
- Release of all persons detained as a result of peacefully exercising their right to freedom of opinion, expression, and assembly including journalists and human rights defenders (Australia, the Netherlands, Ireland)
- Stop unduly restricting and criminalising the work of human rights defenders including lifting travel bans, assets freezes, close case no. 73/2011 (Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands, Canada, and United States of America)
- Repeal or amend laws that restrict the work of human rights defenders and fundamental rights such as the penal code, counter-terrorism laws, media laws, protest and assembly laws (Australia, Belgium)
- End censorship of news and human rights websites (Honduras, New Zealand)
The government of Egypt claimed these recommendations were ‘factually incorrect’ as no one is detained for exercising their rights and all laws have been amended to respect rights such as the NGO law. This despite the fact that the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found that arbitrary detention is a systematic problem in Egypt and could constitute a crime against humanity. ISHR recalls that the new NGO law only replaced prison sentences with hefty fines and defenders are still prosecuted under different laws (such as Article 78 of the Penal Code on foreign funding). Defenders facing trial in case no. 173/2011 could face up to 25 years imprisonment.
The Egyptian government considered other recommendations on human rights defenders as ‘already implemented’ such as:
- Guarantee freedom of expression and opinion in particular for human rights defenders and journalists, protect them from reprisals and investigate and punish all acts of reprisals and intimidation (Argentina, Mongolia, Luxembourg, Germany)
- Facilitate the work of civil society by amending relevant laws and prevent use of counter-terrorism laws to restrict freedom of expression and assembly (Czech Republic, Mexico)
The Egyptian government claimed that these were implemented as rights of freedom of expression, opinion, assembly and association are guaranteed, and the Prosecution swiftly investigates and punishes any acts of intimidation and reprisals. ISHR recalls that the Prosecution has not investigated any of the reprisals documented by the UN Secretary-General in all his annual reports since 2017, at least. Furthermore, seven UN experts have expressed concern about the collective and corrosive effects of Egypt’s counter-terrorism laws and practices on the promotion and protection of human rights.
The government accepted all recommendations on protecting human rights defenders from reprisals for engaging with the UN. The Egyptian delegation expressed its commitment to guarantee the safety of everyone to engage with the UN and to receive six Special Procedures visits.
By contrast, ISHR recalls that the Special Procedures are ringing the alarm bell regarding the pattern of acts of intimidation and reprisals against individuals and groups who sought to or engaged with the UN. In October 2019, they expressed concern regarding the detention of an Egyptian defender in retaliation for his engagement with the UPR. In November 2019, the Special Procedures called for the release of defender Ibrahim Metwally who has been detained for over two years since his arrest from Cairo airport en route to Geneva to meet with the Working Group on Enforced Disappearances. In December 2019, in response to another reprisals case, they reiterated their concerns that ‘counter-terrorism legislation is being used in Egypt to target human rights defenders with the purpose of quashing their advocacy and suppressing any expression of dissent.’ Following the reprisals against those who cooperated with the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing during her visit to Egypt in 2018, two mandate holders said ‘unless Egypt ensures that human rights defenders and victims of human rights violations can interact with UN human rights envoys without fear of reprisal, it is in our view not ready to host further visits’. No visits have taken place since.
The government refused to acknowledge the practice of torture and ill-treatment in detention centres. It however accepted to publish the measures they have taken to implement the recommendations by the UN Committee against Torture’s 2017 confidential inquiry. ISHR welcomed this step and urged the government to report swiftly to the Council on the measures taken in this regard.
Watch the statement here (Arabic version):
Photo: Tercer Piso
 Recommendation by Norway.
 Recommendations by: Afghanistan, Argentina, Austria, Canada, Ecuador, Estonia, Finland, France, Iceland, Italy, Switzerland, Spain, Peru, Norway, Republic of Korea, New Zealand, Seychelles, United States of America.
 Recommendations by Denmark, Ghana, Fiji and Liechtenstein
 Recommendations by Slovenia and Costa Rica.
 Recommendations by Liechtenstein and the United Kingdom.
Despite the Burundian government’s efforts, the human rights situation in the country remains a matter of concern. During the presentation of its report, the Commission of Inquiry underscored the necessity to take more significative actions to pave the way towards sociopolitical stabilization and democracy.
This week in an online event, 10 candidate States publicly spoke to an audience of around 200 people on their pledges as incoming Human Rights Council members for 2022 – 2024. They also faced questions on pressing human rights issues from both States and civil society organisations.
ISHR welcomes the Council’s historic consensus decision, led by the Africa Group, to adopt a resolution mandating an independent international expert mechanism to address systemic racism and to promote racial justice and equality for Africans and people of African descent. The adoption of this resolution is testament to the resilience, bravery and commitment of victims, their families, their representatives and anti-racism defenders globally.
At the 47th session of the Human Rights Council, ISHR along with the Informal Sector Service Center presented a joint statement in Nepal’s Universal Periodic Review expressing concern about the situation of human rights defenders in the country.
Faced with the appropriation of their name, Peruvian NGO Madres en Acción is pushing back, filing a legal action to recover it. In an amicus brief in support of the action, ISHR argues that trademark law is being used to attack defenders and this must stop.
With three more human rights defenders detained arbitrarily in recent days, once again the Human Rights Council was asked to do more to put pressure on Venezuela to allow dissenting voices in the country to be heard. Independent civil society makes a critical contribution to the construction of societies built on the respect of human rights.
In the first case on violence against trans people heard by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the Court held Honduras responsible for the transfemicide of human rights defender Vicky Hernández.
Public servants, journalists, and indigenous defenders have suffered targeting and reprisals from an increasingly brazen government, confirming the urgent need to adopt legal mechanisms for the protection of human rights defenders.
ISHR joins human rights organisations from across the globe in calling for the unconditional and immediate release of prominent Bahraini human rights defender Abdul-Hadi al-Khawaja, who turned 60 on 5 April.
The Martin Ennals Foundation has granted Yu Wensheng, a leading Chinese human rights lawyer, the 2021 Martin Ennals Award. Lawyer Yu was among the three finalists to the Award selected by a jury of ten global human rights organisations - among which ISHR -, along with Loujain AlHathloul from Saudi Arabia and Soltan Achilova from Turkmenistan.
It's difficult to encapsulate such a complex year in a word, but "interconnected" is one that comes to mind when reflecting on 2020. We are proud to have remained deeply interconnected with defenders and to have supported, protected and amplified their work at the national, regional and international levels. With them, the "essential workers" of our times, we strive for a 2021 full of freedom, equality, dignity and justice.