An Egyptian court upheld on Saturday a decision to freeze the assets of several prominent human rights campaigners, reported The Washington Post.
The court ruling named five activists that include Gamal Eid and investigative reporter Hossam Bahgat, also the founder of a key rights group. The ruling also froze the assets of prominent rights campaigners Bahey Eldin Hassan, Mustafa el-Hassan, and Abdel-Hafiz Tayel along with the assets of the groups they lead.
This is nearly the latest blow to human rights community that has been largely subjected to a massive crackdown by the Egyptian government since the military coup in 2013.
The Washington Post said that “The five face charges of illegally receiving foreign funds and using them to harm national security. If convicted, they could face up to 25 years in prison.”
Gamal Eid wrote on his Facebook account after the verdict, referring to the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak, “We can live under threat, but we will not collude with a police state that despises human rights, the January revolution, and democracy.”
He also said that the ruling was politicized and sent a message to civil society campaigners to toe the line or else. “Today, the law took the day off,” he said.
The court’s ruling came on the eve of al-Sisi’s departure for New York to attend meetings of the U.N. General Assembly, an occasion that he has in the past used to confer with foreign and congressional leaders.
Since his (controversial) election in 2014, al-Sisi has failed in reviving Egypt’s wrecked economy, upgrading its rickety infrastructure and even in fighting Sinai Province an affiliated group of the Islamic State militants in the Sinai Peninsula.
Regarding human rights, al-Sisi has repeatedly defended his country’s human rights record, arguing that it should not be judged by Western standards and that the right to education, decent housing and health care is just as important as freedom of expression.
“The five campaigners were swept up in a wider case against at least 12 rights groups that dates back to 2011, but which was revived last year,” said WP.
According to a background briefing prepared by seven rights groups, including the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, or EIPR, and Eid’s Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, the Egyptian authorities have imposed 12 travel bans on campaigners, initiated the asset freeze process against 13 and interrogated 17.
Sarah Leah Whitson of Human Rights Watch said, “Egyptian authorities are single-mindedly pushing for the elimination of the country’s most prominent independent human rights defenders.” She added, “Egypt’s international partners should not be fooled by repression cloaked in the guise of a legalistic procedure.”
In the same context, the ruling was described by Amnesty International as a “reprehensible blow” to Egypt’s human rights movement.
The group’s Philip Luther said in a statement, “We are calling for this unjust ruling to be quashed with immediate effect, and for the Egyptian authorities to cease their harassment of these human rights defenders and members of their families.”
He added, “This is a blatant misuse of the criminal justice system to prevent people speaking out about the rapidly deteriorating human rights situation in the country.”
Since the military coup that ousted the first democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi the Egyptian authorities have waged a wide-ranging crackdown against any opposition.
Thousands of people were jailed mainly Islamists, but also leading secular and liberal activists behind January Revolution in 2011. Rights groups say the current government led by Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, who was the Defense Minister who led Morsi’s overthrow, is even more repressive than Mubarak’s 29-year rule.
Moreover, the Egyptian media, which is largely dominated by al-Sisi supporters, has also attacked human rights activists in their shows and brand them as traitors or agents of foreign powers.