An open letter from IFEX calls for dropping of sanctions and life imprisonment charges against Gamal Eid and Hossam Bahgat.
13 April 2016
We are writing you as a member of IFEX, the global network of 104 organisations dedicated to promoting and defending freedom of expression, to decry the unlawful recent persecution of Gamal Eid, director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, and Hossam Bahgat, founder of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. We are joining the global call for Egypt to respect its constitutional responsibilities and obligations under international law, and allow Egyptian civil society to fulfill its legitimate function of informing society and encouraging debate, free of unconstitutional interference and harassment by the state.
Since February both Eid and Bahgat have been banned from travel abroad without explanation or option of appeal. In the last month, they have also had their assets and those of their families frozen.
Eid and Bahgat are amongst the most visible targets of Case no. 173, the so-called ‘foreign funding’ case, which has recently been revived for use against a number of civil society organisations and their heads. The two men are now slated to appear in court this 20 April to defend themselves from possible charges of accepting foreign funding without authorization – charges that since an amendment to Egypt’s penal code in 2014, can carry a penalty of life imprisonment.
Your Excellency, the arbitrary imposition of travel bans and financial freezes without a clear judicial charge or stated duration grievously violates the constitutional rights of Eid and Bahgat as citizens. Internationally recognized principles of justice require that evidence be presented and charges laid to justify any restriction of fundamental rights, and that limitations of these rights be both proportional to the offense committed and tightly defined in duration when applied. Both the present abrogation of Eid and Bahgat’s rights and the harshness of the penalty they are being threatened with singularly fail to meet these standards.
More broadly, the re-activation of Case 173 and ongoing use of Law 84 are in contradiction with the constitutional rights now guaranteed to Egyptian citizens. Article 75 of Egypt’s 2014 constitution explicitly recognizes the right of non-governmental organizations in Egypt to exist and carry out their functions freely and without interference by agencies of the state, subject to no restriction save giving notification of their existence and demonstrating their transparent and non-military activity. These constitutionally guaranteed rights fundamentally supercede the more restrictive Mubarak era 2002 Law 84 on Associations and Community Foundations.
We firmly believe that the current push against Egyptian civil society is not only unconstitutional, but also fundamentally misguided. The work of civil society groups like those led by Eid and Bahgat contributes to a healthy, vibrant political climate that allows open and critical debate of important social issues where all Egyptian citizens can be freely heard. It is our view that civil society is a critical partner in social progress with the Egyptian government, and it is a serious error to persecute its members as if they were enemies of the state.
In recognition therefore of both the Egyptian government’s constitutional obligations and the vital contribution of civil society groups to Egypt, we call on you to:
• Immediately remove the arbitrary travel ban and asset freeze on Eid and Bahgat;
• End the gag order blocking reporting of the case, and provide normal legal access to Eid and Bahgat’s representatives, including details of the charges, court process and trial dates;
• Repeal Law 84, or conduct an open and inclusive review to amend its provisions in line with the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the 2014 constitution;
• Review the constitutionality of the punitive penal code amendment of 2014 that has made accepting foreign funding without government authorization a life imprisonment offense.
We look forward to your response.