NY Times Looks at Egypt’s Continuing Crackdown on NGOs, this Time Human Rights Watch

After Human Rights Watch Report, Egypt Says Group Broke Law
The New York Times
By David D. Kirkpatrick

CAIRO — The government on Tuesday accused the nonprofit group Human Rights Watch of breaking the law, violating Egypt’s sovereignty and insulting the judiciary after it issued a report criticizing top officials for the repeated mass shootings of Islamist demonstrators last summer.

The allegations echo charges that Egypt has used to jail or sentence dozens of activists, aid workers, journalists and opposition figures in an escalating crackdown on political dissent.

Human Rights Watch “does not enjoy any legal status that may allow it to operate in Egypt,” the government said in a statement responding to the report. “Conducting investigations, collecting evidence and interviewing witnesses without any legal backing are activities that constitute a flagrant violation of state sovereignty under international law,” the statement added. It called the report a “flagrant intervention in the work of the national investigative and judicial authorities, and an attempt to impinge upon the independence and integrity of the Egyptian judiciary.”

The government also said that Human Rights Watch had issued the report “in parallel with dubious moves by the terrorist organization and its supporters” — a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group that sponsored Mohamed Morsi, the ousted Egyptian president — “with a view to carrying out further acts of violence and terrorism against the Egyptian state and innocent civilians.”

In Egypt, such allegations can mean jail time for an organization’s staff members. The Egyptian authorities lodged similar accusations of unauthorized operations and espionage in late 2011 against dozens of employees of nonprofit groups, including the United States government-funded organizations Freedom House, the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute. Dozens of their Egyptian employees were given suspended sentences of a year in prison, and their foreign employees, who fled, were sentenced in absentia to five years each.

Several political figures have been jailed while under investigation for insulting the judiciary. A prominent liberal intellectual, Amr Hamzawy, has been barred from traveling while under investigation for the same charges.

As with other rights groups, the Egyptian authorities have long declined to affirm or reject a licensing application from Human Rights Watch, preserving an implicit threat of legal action against the group or its employees. But the government has simultaneously allowed the group to operate freely, even consulting with the group’s staff here.

In the report that set off the allegations, Human Rights Watch said President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi might be guilty of crimes against humanity for authorizing the repeated mass shootings of Islamist demonstrations after he led the military takeover last summer that ousted Mr. Morsi.

In the four months after the takeover, security forces killed more than 1,100 protesters in six mass shootings, including the breakup of a huge sit-in on Aug. 14, 2013. Human Rights Watch found that security forces killed at least 800 demonstrators that day and probably more than 1,000, in what the group called a vastly disproportionate use of lethal force authorized by top government officials, including Mr. Sisi. He was then the defense minister and the government’s chief decision maker.

Two senior Human Rights Watch executives were turned away at the Cairo airport when they arrived to deliver the report this week. A third employee then left the country before its release to avoid retribution.

The group said Tuesday that the Egyptian authorities had declined requests for comment before the report’s release.

“The government seems to be suggesting that H.R.W.’s investigation and visit to Egypt is part of a Muslim Brotherhood terrorist plot, which is farcical on its face,” Sarah Leah Whitson, the group’s executive director for the region, said in an email. She called the charges “absurd, unsubstantiated allegations, and a naked effort to intimidate us.”

Up ArrowTop