In the interests of human rights, democracy and the rule of law, Egypt should immediately lift the travel ban imposed on woman human rights defender Mozn Hassan, write the heads of six leading NGOs.
Mozn Hassan is a courageous feminist and a human rights defender who protested with her fellow citizens to overthrow President Hosni Mubarak, calling for a new era of freedom and democracy in Egypt. Her struggle for equal rights for women during and after the Egyptian revolution, through her organisation Nazra for Feminist Studies, earned her the 2016 Right Livelihood Award. But she’s unlikely to receive this prestigious award because of a travel ban imposed on her by the Egyptian authorities.
Mozn’s travel ban is the latest in a series of measures taken against her and other prominent leaders of Egyptian civil society under the ambit of the infamous Case 173 of 2011, commonly known as the ‘NGO Foreign Funding case’.
In March 2016, Mozn Hassan was summoned to appear before a judge investigating the NGO Foreign Funding case soon after her participation at the UN Commission on the Status of Women. On 27 June 2016, she was prevented by the airport authorities in Cairo – acting on the instructions of the investigating judge and the Prosecutor General – from participating in the Women Human Rights Defenders Regional Coalition for the Middle East and North Africa meeting held in Lebanon.
Others are being targeted too. The prestigious Cairo Institute for Human Rights (CIHRS) and its director Bahey el din Hassan have had their assets frozen; the Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence has been threatened with closure; Ahmad Abdallah, founder and board member of the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, has spent time in prison; and the list goes on.
But what grave crimes are they accused of to merit such restrictions of their freedoms? Case 173 alleges that 37 Egyptian NGOs, including Nazra for Feminist Studies, are illegally receiving foreign funding in breach of a Hosni Mubarak-era Law on Associations and Community Foundations (Law 84 of 2002). This law, together with subsequent amendments to Egypt’s Penal Code, impose harsh penalties – up to life imprisonment – on anyone accepting foreign funds for activities deemed harmful to Egypt’s national interests and unity. These vague provisions are clearly intended to silence all independent voices that may not always agree with the government’s policies.
We value Mozn Hassan and Nazra for Feminist Studies’ contributions to documenting violence against women, promoting women’s rights and political participation, and providing legal, medical and psychological support to women survivors of violence in Egypt. Mozn’s work encourages Egypt to comply with its own progressive post-revolution 2014 Constitution and its obligations under numerous international treaties. Indeed, during Egypt’s last periodic review at the UN Human Rights Council in 2014, then Ambassador of Egypt to the UN in Geneva Hisham Badr affirmed his government’s commitment to protecting the rights of women on an equal basis as men, and enacting a new association law following consultations with civil society. Two years on, the law has yet to be enacted while the grip on civil society has become even tighter.
Mozn Hassan and Nazra for Feminist Studies are supporting these commitments with concrete actions; they have provided legal support for over 100 survivors of sexual harassment, they have backed women human rights defenders arrested for participating in peaceful protests, they have been successfully mentoring Egyptian women with their Women’s Political Participation Academy.
Moreover, Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – to which Egypt is a State Party – guarantees the right to freedom of association, and we assert that this right extends to all activities of an association, including fundraising – a view shared by Maina Kiai, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Assembly and of Association.
It is deeply distressing and unfortunate that the Egyptian authorities continue to use Law 84, which is inconsistent with Egypt’s international obligations, to harass Egyptian civil society activists. The travel ban, which was not notified in writing to Mozn, is a clear reprisal measure designed to stop her from engaging with international mechanisms and meetings, and to silence her voice.
We urge the competent Egyptian authorities, in particular the Prosecutor General and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to immediately lift the travel ban on Mozn Hassan so that she is able to travel to Europe to receive her Right Livelihood Award, but most importantly, to exercise her well-established right to work, travel and operate freely as a human rights defender.
We further urge the competent Egyptian authorities to cease ongoing judicial proceedings under Case 173 until a new associations law is enacted that provides an enabling environment for civil society to operate free from hindrance and insecurity.
In his comments to the UN Human Rights Council, Ambassador Badr said that civil society was a natural partner to the Egyptian government. Lifting the travel ban on Mozn Hassan and stopping the persecution of Egyptian civil society under Case 173 would go a long way towards realising these sentiments, and ensuring that the hard-won gains of Egypt’s revolution toward the rule of law and democracy are not squandered.