Bärbel Kofler, Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid at the Federal Foreign Office, issued the following statement in Berlin today (19 September) after an Egyptian court upheld a freeze on the bank accounts of human rights organisations:
I am deeply concerned by a Cairo court’s decision to uphold an earlier decision made in March 2016 to freeze the bank accounts of prominent Egyptian human rights defenders and organisations. The freezing of the financial assets of the Egyptian human rights groups in question has rendered them largely unable to operate.
The court decision is the latest in a series of repressive measures against activists and organisations in Egypt that are working to defend human rights and fundamental freedoms. Travel bans, bank account freezes and investigations are not only contrary to international human rights standards to which Egypt has committed itself, but also to the Egyptian constitution.
Respect for human rights and a free civil society are a prerequisite for social harmony and lasting stability. I call on Egypt to create conditions in which human rights groups can do their work unhindered – work that is important for the country.
In many parts of the world, I have been observing how the freedom of civil society is being steadily undermined by restrictions imposed by the state. It is very important to me to speak out against this
In the course of 2016, human rights organisations in Egypt have been targeted on an unprecedented scale by repressions such as freezes on bank accounts, travel bans and investigations.
On 17 September 2016, a Cairo court upheld the decision made in March 2016 to freeze bank accounts within the scope of an investigation against well-known Egyptian human rights defenders. The decision was based on allegations that the organisations in question had received supposedly unlawful funding from abroad.
Five prominent human rights defenders (Hossam Bahgat, Gamal Eid, Bahey el din Hassan, Mostafa El-Hassan and Abdel Hafiz Tayel) as well as three leading human rights organisations in Egypt (the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, the Hisham Mubarak Law Center and the Egyptian Center on the Rights to Education) are affected.
A counter-terrorism law adopted in 2015 lays down heavy penalties, including life imprisonment, for “harmful acts against the national interest or acts that destabilise the general peace, independence or unity of Egypt” and stipulates strict approval regulations for operating an “organisation with an international range” and “accepting funding from abroad”.