UN alarm as Egypt freezes assets of key rights activists
20 September 2016, 21:03
Geneva - The UN on Tuesday said it was "extremely concerned" about a Cairo court's decision to freeze the assets of five prominent human rights activists and three NGOs.
The decision, which was taken on Saturday, has been widely criticised by global rights groups, and stoked fears of an intensified crackdown on Egyptian civil society.
"We are extremely concerned by the recent decision of a Cairo Criminal Court to freeze the assets of five prominent human rights activists," UN rights office spokesman Rupert Colville told reporters.
The rights activists are Hossam Bahgat, who founded the leading Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights NGO, Gamal Eid, Bahey el-Din Hassan, Mostafa al-Hassan and Abdel Hafez al-Tayel.
The court also froze the assets of Bahey el-Din Hassan's Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Mostafa al-Hassan's Hisham Mubarak Law Centre and the Egyptian Centre for the Right to Education.
The move was linked to a long-running investigation into the foreign funding of Egyptian civil society which began in 2011 and has stoked diplomatic tensions with Washington.
Intimidation of numerous human rights
Under Egyptian law, members of rights groups operating without registration or accepting foreign funding without government permission could be jailed for life, which in Egypt amounts to 25 years.
It is not clear whether the freeze would also apply to two other NGOs partly owned by Bahgat and Eid: the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) and the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), Colville said.
"We are particularly concerned that this decision by the court now opens the way for further criminal proceedings against the defendants who, if found guilty, could be sentenced to life in prison," he said.
Bahgat and Eid are among 12 human rights who, since February, have reportedly been subjected to a travel ban linked to ongoing investigations, Colville said.
"The High Commissioner is alarmed by the continuing closure or intimidation of numerous human rights NGOs, and prosecution of their staff, by the Egyptian authorities," he added.
Such acts harmed their legitimate right to freedom of expression and of association, thereby undermining the rights of the population at large.
The UN also urged Cairo to make good on a pledge to adopt a new NGO law, calling for it to be legislation which "fully complies with Egypt's international human rights obligations".