The UN’s human rights chief expressed “grave concern” on Wednesday over Egypt’s prosecutions of human rights defenders and the shut-down of civil society organisations by the military government. The comments by UNHCR Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein came ahead of a judicial hearing for two key human rights activists set to begin on Thursday in Cairo. Media outlets are restricted from reporting on the proceedings under a court order.
“This looks like a clampdown on sections of Egyptian civil society and it must stop,” said Zeid. “NGOs who have played a valuable role in documenting violations and supporting victims will see their activities completely crippled if this continues. This will stifle the voices of those who advocate for victims.”
A series of travel bans, interrogations, and asset freezes indicate that criminal charges may be pending against rights groups in the country, an alliance of international rights groups also warned on Wednesday. Civil rights in Egypt have been increasingly restricted since President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi – then head of the armed forces – ousted president Mohammed Morsi in 2013.
International rights groups warned that leading Egyptian human rights defenders may face trial on charges of working without official registration, or accepting foreign funds without government authorisation. The latter charge could carry sentences of life imprisonment under a decree issued by Sisi in 2014.