UN and others urge Egyptian government to stop persecution of activists in the country

Thousands of activists, journalists, lawyers and opposition figures have been thrown in prison in the country as part of a massive, ongoing crackdown on human rights and dissent since the regime of president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi came to power in 2014

February 13, 2021 by Peoples Dispatch
Political activist Ghada Naguib with her husband, actor Hisham Abdullah. Photo: HRW

Egypt’s continuing mistreatment and persecution of democracy and human rights activists has come under criticism once again. The United Nations has called upon the Egyptian government to reverse some of the recent, unjust and repressive measures that have been taken against several prominent activists of the country.

A report in the news outlet Al Araby from February 12, 2021, stated that a panel of UN human rights experts has urged Egyptian authorities to drop two well-known Egyptian activists from the government’s ‘terrorism list’ in what the panel described as a ““systemic misuse of counter-terrorism powers”. A day earlier, the human rights group Human Rights Watch condemned the government’s decision to revoke the citizenship of prominent human rights/democracy activist, Ghada Naguib, urging the government to immediately reverse the “arbitrary and abusive decision.”

Naguib’s citizenship was reportedly revoked in December last year. The government had quietly published news about the development in the Official Gazette. The decision to revoke her citizenship was taken under Law No.26/1975, as per which the authorities have the right to revoke citizenship without judicial review. The law allows the prime minister to revoke the citizenship of any person if they have lived abroad and are convicted of a felony linked to harming state security, according to a Middle East Eye. Additionally, the authorities also claim that she is “originally Syrian”, a claim she strongly rejects. According to her, even though her father is Syrian, she has never traveled to Syria and does not hold Syrian citizenship.

Naguib says that before her citizenship was revoked, Egyptian media affiliated with the government ran a “despicable smear campaign” against her and her husband, popular Egyptian actor, Hisham Abdullah, Allegations were made about her having extra-marital relations and that her eight year old son was born to a different father. Abdullah and other members of his family also received direct attacks in an apparent attempt to intimidate them into silence. In December last year, five of his relatives were detained by the authorities and accused of being members of a “terrorist group.”

Naguib and Abdullah had also previously been convicted of various charges, including “joining an illegal organization”, “disseminating false news to undermine national security” and sentenced to five years in prison. Middle East Eye reported that their convictions, which took place during a mass trial, were based entirely on the testimonies of security officials.

The government’s use of the anti-terrorism laws have also come under the scanner of the United Nations, with the Special Rapporteurs of the UN Human Rights Council’s monitoring body in a statement expressing concern about the inclusion of two activists, Ramy Shaath and Zyad El-Elaimy, in the official ‘terrorist’ list. The two activists were arrested in June 2019 and placed on the “terrorist list” in April 2020 without evidence and in absentia.

The rapporteurs in their statement said, “we are concerned that this indicates a systemic problem with human rights protections in Egypt, as well as a systemic problem in the abuse and misuse of counter-terrorism laws and practices. We are deeply disturbed about counter-terrorism law, its definitions, misuse and the practice by the Egyptian authorities, and in particular the misuse of listing procedures at national level, to attack individuals engaged in human rights work.” They also noted that the government’s misuse of its counter-terrorism powers are in violation of Egypt’s international law obligations, while also harming the wider international efforts to combat terrorism due to the government’s domestic misuse of those powers.