Explanatory statement from AFTE on Ms. Ola Shahba’s complaint

Date : Tuesday, 5 September, 2023
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5 September 2023

 

The Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) has seen what Ms. Ola Shahba posted on her Facebook account regarding AFTE’s handling of her complaint against a telecommunications company in 2017 and how AFTE’s board of trustees dealt with her complaint in this regard.

 

AFTE emphasizes that it dealt seriously and transparently with the complaint it received in late November 2022, nearly six years after the incident in question took place. It made a clear apology and suggested possible steps to redress the damage, but did not receive any response from the complainant.

 

AFTE would like to clarify the course of the complaint and how to deal with it and welcomes communication with the complainant:

 

  • On the morning of 28 November 2022, Ms. Ola Shahba sent a complaint via email to all members of AFTE’s advisory board of trustees at that time (after she sent her complaint to AFTE’s executive director the previous day).

 

  • The complaint included the following points:

 

  • She lost the file of her complaint which was in the custody of one of AFTE’s lawyers, thus violating her personal information
  • AFTE’s Legal Aid Unit failed to follow up on the complaint legally and did not inform the client of developments in the matter
  • AFTE’s response was weak and late when it was informed of the content of the complaint

 

  • The complaint exclusively demanded an “investigation into how the above happened and how to ensure that it will not happen again to me or any of AFTE’s clients”. It also demanded “sending an official email stating the legal status of the case and the next plan to deal with it”.

 

  • On the day of receiving the complaint, the chairman of the board of trustees sent a reply to Ms. Ola confirming that the board had received her complaint and intended to take action to “clarify the circumstances of what happened, investigate the matter, and inform her of what happened as soon as possible”.

 

  • On 4 February 2023, the board of trustees sent Ms. Ola a letter containing all the details of the investigation. The letter included AFTE’s apology for “the shortcomings that marred AFTE’s work in following up the outcome of the complaint she submitted to the Public Prosecution against a telecommunications company and in informing her of its developments”. It highlighted AFTE’s regret for “the harm that may have been caused to its client as a result of the uncertainty about the fate of her medical report”. The letter concluded that “it was proven that there were negligence and shortcoming in following up the complaint and that it was not possible to attribute this to a specific person who is currently an AFTE staff member”, including the current executive director and the Legal Unit’s director. It further emphasized that AFTE “bears responsibility for this mistake and negligence… as it is responsible for the work of its staff members” even if they left it.

 

  • The letter sent to the complainant included the following:
    • Detailed information about the legal procedures taken regarding the complaint filed against the telecommunications company from 15 July 2017 until the Public Prosecution’s decision to shelve the complaint on  18 April 2021.
    • A soft copy of the documents submitted to the Public Prosecution, including the National Telecom Regulatory Authority’s (NTRA) reply, the complaints and reports submitted to both NTRA and the Public Prosecution, and a copy of the complainant’s national ID card.
    • With regard to the medical report on the psychological impact on Ms. Ola due to the behavior of the telecommunications company, AFTE acknowledged that the lawyer responsible for submitting the complaint in 2017 (who left AFTE several years ago) told the board of trustees that he did not submit the report to the prosecution at that time and preferred to focus on proving the material damage. He said he does not remember accurately whether he obtained a copy of the complaint or just read it. He justified his uncertainty about what happened by saying that the incident took place six years ago.
    • Proposed steps to redress the damage and continue the lawsuit, if Ms. Ola agrees. This includes proceeding with the complaint procedures again, resuming the legal and judicial measures, and assigning one of AFTE’s lawyers to undertake these procedures.
    • In the event that the client refuses to deal with AFTE again, AFTE offered to transfer the case to any other human rights organization or to a law firm the client chooses. AFTE also offered to cover all required fees within reasonable limits.

 

  • In the recommendations section of the letter sent to Ms. Ola, the board of trustees said that AFTE will develop a hardcopy system, in addition to the softcopy one in place, in order to keep record of lawsuits, investigations and powers of attorney. It also said that AFTE will develop a parallel system in cases  of delivery and receipt from a manager to another or from a lawyer to a manager, whatever the type of delivery and receipt is.

 

Since sending the board’s letter and AFTE’s apology to Ms. Ola on 4 February,  AFTE has not received any response to its proposals or any comment on the conclusions and results of the report, until Ms. Ola posted on her Facebook account on 31 August.

 

AFTE clarified the circumstances of the incident, identified the shortcomings, took responsibility for them, took the necessary measures to address them, apologized to the complainant unequivocally, and offered all possible measures to redress the damage in the manner the complainant prefers.

 

AFTE and its board of trustees will continue to deal quiet seriously with this complaint and similar ones. It seeks to improve its work system and the performance of its team all the time to discover shortcomings and address them. It takes responsibility for its work not only towards its clients and beneficiaries of its services, but also towards the entire society, in its capacity as a civil institution established for the public benefit.

 

In conclusion, AFTE is committed to implementing the proposals sent to Ms. Ola, and always welcomes communication with her for this purpose.

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We note that EU regulations require that recipients of macro-financial assistance “adhere to the respect of human rights and effective democratic mechanisms, including a multi-party parliamentary system and the rule of law,” while the European Council stipulated that a precondition for granting the Union’s macro-financial assistance is that “Egypt continues to make concrete and credible steps towards respecting effective democratic mechanisms, including a multi-party parliamentary system, and the rule of law, and guaranteeing respect for human rights.” However, what those “concrete and credible steps” should be is not defined in the Commission’s proposal. 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If these steps are met the EU’s macro-financial assistance will contribute to concrete and lasting progress on human rights and the rule of law in Egypt, which is indispensable to ensure transparency and accountability, end impunity and help prevent the recurrence of economic crises in the country. Failing to set human rights benchmarks would instead be a blank check for further abuses and repression in Egypt. Signatories Amnesty International Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies Committee for Justice Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF) Egyptian Front for Human Rights (EFHR) Egyptian Human Rights Forum (EHRF) Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) EgyptWide for Human Rights EuroMed Rights International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) Human Rights Watch Middle East Democracy Center (MEDC) Minority Rights Group Refugees Platform In Egypt (RPE) Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP)Joint NGO letter on the EU’s macro-financial assistance to Egypt and human rights We, the undersigned Egyptian, regional and international human rights organisations, urge the European Commission and member states to uphold international and EU law to ensure that macro-financial assistance to Egypt granted under EU regulations secures concrete, measurable, structural and timebound human rights progress and reforms in the country. Since the 2013 military ousting of former president Mohamed Morsi, Egypt has been ruled with an iron fist. Authorities have brutally and systematically silenced peaceful dissent, nearly wiped-out independent media and civil society, repressed political opposition, adopted and enacted repressive legislation, jailed tens of thousands of actual or perceived critics and severely undermined the independence of the judiciary and of the legal profession. With very little civic, judicial, or parliamentary scrutiny, the authorities have faced virtually no accountability for their repressive policies and actions. In turn, this has contributed to the government’s failure to respect, protect and fulfil people’s social and economic rights, leading to setbacks for those most affected by the recurring economic crises in the country. From February 2024 onwards, Egypt’s donors including the United Arab Emirates, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the United Kingdom and the European Union provided or pledged around 57 billion USD in grants and loans. As part of this process, donors should ensure that the Egyptian authorities pursue and effectively implement reforms that improve respect for human rights alongside greater transparency and accountability. Donors must also ensure that economic and fiscal measures implemented as part of these programs do not contribute to the further erosion of people’s economic and social rights, especially in light of the continuing rise in poverty rates since the adoption of the first IMF program in 2016, as well as the Egyptian government’s inadequate spending levels on social protection, health and education. Any agreed macroeconomic reforms must reflect and uphold the legal obligations of all parties with regard to economic and social rights, notably in the areas of labour rights and environmental justice, and corporate accountability. We believe that structural reforms to strengthen rule of law, guarantee fair trials, open civic space, uphold the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association and media freedom, and release all those arbitrarily detained, are crucial. Not only would they comply with Egypt’s constitution and international human rights obligations, but they would also address some of the root causes of Egypt’s financial and economic instability. This instability has severely impacted the economic and social rights of millions of people in Egypt, who will ultimately carry the burden of repaying Egypt’s debts, particularly those in vulnerable and marginalised situations. We note that EU regulations require that recipients of macro-financial assistance “adhere to the respect of human rights and effective democratic mechanisms, including a multi-party parliamentary system and the rule of law,” while the European Council stipulated that a precondition for granting the Union’s macro-financial assistance is that “Egypt continues to make concrete and credible steps towards respecting effective democratic mechanisms, including a multi-party parliamentary system, and the rule of law, and guaranteeing respect for human rights.” However, what those “concrete and credible steps” should be is not defined in the Commission’s proposal. As the Commission and Egyptian authorities negotiate Memorandum of Understandings (MoUs) to regulate the disbursement of EU funds to Egypt up to 2027, we urge the European Commission, Council and Parliament to ensure that: 1) The MoUs lay out a roadmap for structural reforms, with public, clear, specific and timebound indicators, targets and benchmarks for Egypt to meet its human rights obligations. 2) Egyptian authorities immediately and unconditionally release all those detained solely for the peaceful exercise of their human rights including the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. 3) Egyptian authorities open civic and political space, by respecting the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, including before, during and after the 2025 parliamentary elections. If these steps are met the EU’s macro-financial assistance will contribute to concrete and lasting progress on human rights and the rule of law in Egypt, which is indispensable to ensure transparency and accountability, end impunity and help prevent the recurrence of economic crises in the country. Failing to set human rights benchmarks would instead be a blank check for further abuses and repression in Egypt. Signatories Amnesty International Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies Committee for Justice Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF) Egyptian Front for Human Rights (EFHR) Egyptian Human Rights Forum (EHRF) Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) EgyptWide for Human Rights EuroMed Rights International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) Human Rights Watch Middle East Democracy Center (MEDC) Minority Rights Group Refugees Platform In Egypt (RPE) Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP)and human rights

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