The Confiscation of Wasla: A Dangerous Escalation in the Harassment of Human Rights Organizations and Freedom of Opinion and Expression
In an escalation of the crackdown on rights groups, Egyptian security forces have confiscated Issue No. 72 of Wasla, a magazine issued by the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), and arrested a worker at the press where the publication was being printed, charging him with possession of publications that call for the overthrow of the regime and which promote a terrorist organization. The worker will be held in pre-trail detention for four days pending investigations.
The undersigned Egyptian organizations condemn the increasing and persistent assault on human rights and civil society associations operating in Egypt and the exhaustive attempts by the security forces to silence all independent voices in the country. This step by the authorities marks the continuation of a policy of restricting and suppressing rights groups and retaliating against them for exposing human rights violations. This attack on ANHRI comes less than a month after security forces illegally raided the Alexandria offices of the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, indicating a clear intention to eliminate civil society and harass advocacy groups.
The day before yesterday, the security apparatus raided the press that prints Wasla, an occasional publication issued by ANHRI, confiscating nearly 1,000 copies of the magazine and the master copy, and arresting a worker at the press without stating any official cause. When an ANHRI lawyer went to the Awsim police station—the district in which the press is located—police officers refused to show him the police report or provide any details about the incident or the reasons for the confiscation. Instead, they verbally attacked human rights organizations. Yesterday the Awsim Prosecution questioned the press worker and brought charges against him designed to slander human rights organizations, including printing and possessing a publication inciting the overthrow the regime, joining a terrorist group, and administering and printing a newspaper without notice. The prosecution also charged the owner of the press with distributing the paper. Beginning today, the worker will be held for 4 days in pre-trial detention. This decision came in spite of ANHRI’s requests to the prosecution that it be held fully responsible for the charges instead of the press and its employees. The undersigned organizations believe these types of decisions constitute a veiled threat and a deterrent to anyone working with or aiding human rights organizations.
One of the objectives of these raids is to cover up the failure of the authorities to find political solutions, based on respect for the rule of law, to the profound crises facing the country. Independent rights organizations warn that the security authorities’ continued abuse of the law to curtail civil and political liberties will only aggravate the crises. The former president Mohamed Morsi used the same imperious security policies against opposition and independent voices, and this ended his political project, as it did for his predecessors.
The actions of the security apparatus the day before yesterday flagrantly contravene the 2014 constitution, which prohibits confiscating or censoring any publications except in times of war or public mobilization (Article 71) and provides for freedom of civic action (Article 75). They are also in clear violation of international standards for the right to association, which includes the right of associations to express their opinion on issues of public concern.
The undersigned organizations condemn in the strongest terms the trumped-up charges that aim primarily to smear an advocacy organization, the ANHRI. Such charges mark a return to the worst repression of the Mubarak era and makes plain the nature of accusations that human rights groups may face in the coming period.
This incident comes in a general context of an organized and persistent media campaign, run by the security apparatus, vilifying human rights groups and disseminating false allegations against them. This campaign is apparent in various media, including state-owned media outlets. The incident also comes in light of the the Ministry of Social Solidarity’s recent proposals for a new NGO law, which include restrictions that are more repressive and arbitrary than the provisions of Law 84/2002 (passed by Hosni Mubarak) and go even further than the NGO law proposed by the former President Morsi in May 2013, just one month before he was deposed. The ministry’s proposals allow security bodies to control the activities of civil society and completely exclude human rights from the legitimate remit of civic associations.
Repeated attacks on human rights organizations and attempts to suppress them with security measures demonstrates a continuity of previous hostile policies directed against rights organizations. It is unfortunate that the new president has inaugurated his term with the unconstitutional confiscation of a publication issued by a rights organization. This is a worrying sign not only for human rights organizations, but for freedom of expression in general, and freedom of the press in particular.
- Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
- Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights
- Andalus institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies
- Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
- Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression
- Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance
- Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights
- El Nadeem Centre for psychological rehabilitation of victims of violence and torture
- Hisham Mubarak Law Center
- National group for human rights and law
- Nazra for Feminist Studies
- New Woman Foundation
- The Egyptian Coalition for the Rights of the Child
- The Egyptian Foundation for the Advancement of Childhood Conditions