Egyptian authorities should drop all charges against unregistered nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and stop the criminal investigation of such groups, Human Rights Watch said. Authorities should not take action against NGOs until Egypt’s new parliament proposes legislation consistent with international legal standards, Human Rights Watch said. The organizations under investigation are not registered under the Mubarak-era Associations Law, in many cases because the government failed to respond to their requests to register.
On February 5, 2012, the state-run MENA news agency announced that two investigative judges hand-picked by the government had referred 40 NGO staff to trial, both Egyptian and American nationals. Over the past several months, the judges interrogated staff from at least seven groups, and on December 29 military and police raided their offices. A new draft NGO law proposed by the government would actually increase restrictions on free association, Human Rights Watch said. Authorities have given the organizations until February 3 to provide comments on the law.
“The Egyptian authorities are using a discredited Mubarak-era law to prosecute nongovernmental groups while proposing even more restrictive legislation,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The government should stop using the old law, halt the criminal investigations, and propose a law that respects international standards.”
On February 5, the investigative judges referred the investigation to a criminal court. The investigative judges had the discretion to drop all charges and close the investigation. The independent daily Al-Masry al-Youm had on January 1 quoted unnamed judicial officials saying that prosecutors had signed 43 arrest warrantsfor the staff of the NGOs that were raided. On January 30, judicial sources told Al-Masry al-Youm and another independent daily, Al-Shorouk, that they would issue arrest warrants “in the next days.”
Over the past two months, two government-appointed investigative judges, both former state security prosecutors, Ashraf Ashmawy and Sameh Abu Zeid, have summoned NGO staff for interrogation on charges of operating without being registered under the 2002 Associations Law and receiving funding without prior authorization. During the Mubarak era, security officials made it virtually impossible for human rights and democracy organizations to register.
On January 30, investigative judges summoned Nasser Amin, director of the Arab Center for the Independence of the Judiciary.Police and military officers, as well as prosecutors, previously raided the center’s premises, removing eight computers and hundreds of files. During Amin’s questioning, they informed two lawyers who had come to represent him – Hafez Abu Saada, director of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, and Negad al-Bori, director of United Group – that neither could attend because both had been accused in the same case.