GENEVA – A group of United Nations experts, including Maina Kiai, has strongly condemned Egypt for escalating its action against women human rights defenders and women rights groups as part of a continuing clampdown on civil society.
“The Government’s actions are preventing women human rights defenders from conducting their legitimate activities and professions, and are leaving thousands of women in need of support and security,” the experts said. “The noose is tightening around the women’s rights movement, and this is having a direct and considerable impact on human rights.”
The experts highlighted the arrest of lawyer Azza Soliman, a prominent human rights defender who founded the Centre for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance (CEWLA). She was detained on 7 December and questioned by an investigative judge over the highly controversial case 173/2011, which centres on foreign funding of non-governmental organizations in Egypt.
“The arrest and investigation of Azza Soliman demonstrates that the repression of Egypt’s human rights movement has escalated to a higher level,” the experts said with concern. “Ms. Soliman is a central figure in the country’s independent women’s rights movement. Targeting her sends a strong negative signal from the Government about its hostile position towards women’s rights defenders.”
“The Government must immediately repeal all repressive measures against human rights defenders, including travel bans and legislation that criminalizes legitimate activities, as they are not in compliance with Egypt’s obligations under international human rights law,” they added.
Despite being freed on bail, Ms. Soliman still faces charges of having received foreign funding that may “harm the state interest”, having established an entity that conducts activities similar to that of associations’ activities and tax evasion.
The group of experts stressed that the action against Ms. Soliman was not an isolated case.
“We are highly concerned that other human rights defenders have been charged with similar offences in recent months,” they noted. “Hundreds of other human rights defenders are living under the threat of persecution and imprisonment. Many are being prevented from travelling and are seeing their assets or those of their organisations frozen.”
The experts highlighted that during a court session on 12 December concerning the decision to freeze Azza Soliman’s assets and those of her law firm, a request was made to take similar action against several other human rights defenders. These included another woman human rights defender, Mozn Hassan – who is already subject to a travel ban – and her organization Nazra for Feminist Studies.
On 14 December, the North Cairo Court confirmed the decision to freeze Azza Soliman’s assets and those of her law firm, while it postponed the verdict issuance for the asset freeze of Mozn Hassan and her organization to 11 January 2017.
“The continuous persecution of women human rights defenders such as Azza Soliman and Mozn Hassan through the investigation of case 173/2011 establishes and reinforces a pattern of systematic repression of the Egyptian women’s rights movement, aiming to silence and intimidate those working tirelessly for justice, human rights and equality,” the experts said.
(*) The experts: Ms. Alda Facio, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice; Mr. Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Mr. David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Mr. Maina Kiai, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; and Ms. Dubravka Šimonović, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences.