CJFE calls for international solidarity to protest threat to jail Egyptian human rights defender

Thursday, February 17, 2000

In response to the latest attempts to silence Hafez Abu Seada of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR), CJFE has consulted representatives of EOHR as to the most effective course of action. For the moment, CJFE is calling on all IFEX members and supporters worldwide to join the Egyptian human rights movement in its campaign against government intimidation of EOHR. CJFE suggests that action on this case is urgent given the serious threats to the liberty and free expression of Hafez Abu Seada and to the EOHR, an IFEX Council member. Supporters are urged to write to President Mubarak and to the Egyptian embassy in your country, and to encourage your own government to take action. The following is CJFE's letter to President Mubarak:

17 February 2000

His Excellency Hosni Mubarak
President of the Republic of Egypt
Abedine Palace
Cairo, Arab Republic of Egypt
Fax: +202 3901998

Your Excellency,

On behalf of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), I am once again writing to protest the ongoing attacks against the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR), and in particular against its Secretary General Hafez Abu Seada. CJFE is an independent organization which promotes freedom of expression worldwide according to the precepts of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The most recent assault on Hafez Abu Seada comes from your government's threats to jail him for many years over receipt of US$25,000 which the EOHR received from the human rights committee of the British parliament, allegedly in violation of the law. We support the EOHR's statement that "this amount was used for EOHR's project of legal aid for women and the handicapped," and not for the report on violence in El Kosheh issued by the EOHR on September 28, 1998, which was the basis of the allegations against EOHR. It was for this reason that Hafez Abu Seada was first jailed for one week in December 1998. We view these latest charges as a further attempt to silence Hafez Abu Seada as part of a wider attack against him and the EOHR because of their human rights activities.

We strongly object to the decision issued by the prosecutor of state security to refer Hafez Abu Seada to the Supreme State Security Court, to be tried for breaching article No. 1 - item 6 of military order No. 4 /1992 which "forbids collecting, receiving, declaring or even asking for donations for facing effects of disasters, accidents, risks or for any other purpose without a permission from the ministry of social affairs." The penalty is of imprisonment ranging from 7 to 15 years, according to article 2/1 of the military order.

The EOHR has issued a statement saying "the referral of the Secretary General to this court, which excludes the possibility of an appeal to a higher court, is new evidence that the government is undermining the right to fair trail and all demands of the Egyptian civil society, parties, syndicates and intellectuals to end the institution of the emergency law." The EOHR also maintains that the referral of Hafez Abu Seada "also proves that the government is reneging on its promise that the emergency law would be applied 'only to those who are involved in terrorism.'" Clearly, reporting on human rights violations do not constitute a terrorist threat and such laws should not be invoked to suppress free expression.

This latest incident follows recent revelations that the EOHR's publication was among 14 newspapers and newsletters banned. In a February 2, 2000 letter, CJFE protested the order closing the EOHR newsletter, which was created to notify members of the activities of the EOHR and to raise awareness of human rights issues. We believe these repressive tactics used to silence the EOHR are not unrelated to the restrictive law governing NGOs that came into effect in Egypt in 1999.

We urge you to pause in these unremitting efforts to silence Egypt's human rights defenders, for it is their role in civil society to guide your country towards full democracy. We look forward to a response on these most urgent matters and trust you will not turn away from international appeals to respect human rights in Egypt, and those who defend them.

Sincerely,

Sharmini Peries
CJFE Executive Director

cc. The Hon. Lloyd Axworthy, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Canada, House of Commons, Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0A6, Canada, Fax:+ 613 996 3443

His Excellency Hamdy Nada, Ambassador, Embassy of the Arab Republic of Egypt, 454 Laurier Ave. East, Ottawa, Ontario K1N 6R3, Canada, Fax: +613 234 9347

Please feel free to copy this letter or write your own based on this information.