Sunday, August 28, 2011

Egypt: NGOs Accuse Army of Smear Campaign

By William Fisher

Thirty-six of Egypt’s most respected civil society organizations are denouncing Egypt’s military rulers for “conducting organized smear campaigns designed to impugn these groups’ patriotism as well as ongoing attempts to intimidate” them, the organizations said in a statement.

The groups accused the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) of ordering investigations conducted by the State Security Prosecution into “complaints accusing unnamed NGOs and political groups of receiving foreign funds and grants in violation of the law.”

The groups also condemned the authorities’ “manipulation of the media to publicize investigations into associations and political groups accused of receiving US funding without identifying the groups in question.” They added that “it is well known that the majority of US funds have been disbursed as grants to US institutions operating in Egypt in a public, official capacity.”

“These Egyptian organizations and groups, which remain unidentified, have even been accused of high treason—charges that the Mubarak regime did not dare to level at its political enemies or at those organizations that bravely confronted crimes and human rights abuses under his rule,” the statement said.

It declared that “those currently administering the country’s affairs after the January 25 revolution are using the same methods as the Mubarak regime to confront their critics.” It said this “reveals the irritation of the SCAF with the criticisms raised against it, whether directed at its management of the political course of the transitional period or at the grave human rights abuses for which it is responsible.”

The groups said, “These abuses include the widespread use of exceptional military trials—before which more people have been tried in the past six months than in the 30 years of Mubarak’s rule—and the use of the military judiciary to harass revolutionary youth who have criticized SCAF policies.”

In addition, the groups said, “torture continues to be carried out in detention facilities run by the military police and has even reached unprecedented levels, as female political activists face sexual assault by being subjected to forcible virginity tests. Excessive force has also been used on several occasions to disperse sit-ins by political groups and the families of martyrs of the January 25 Revolution.”

“The heart of the dispute between human rights organizations and both the Mubarak regime and the SCAF is not foreign funding,” the groups declared. It is “the critical stances taken by these groups when confronting human rights crimes, both before and after the January 25 Revolution.”

The statement said. “Foreign funding is not prohibited for the state and its institutions or for the official state councils on human rights, women, or children. Nor is foreign funding a sensitive issue for thousands of development associations and charitable groups who receive foreign grants, as the activities of these groups and institutions are not based on a critical evaluation of the performance of the state and its institutions in the sphere of human rights. As such, foreign funding has never been a cause for dispute between the state and these institutions, neither during Mubarak’s rule nor after him.”

The groups charged that the issue of foreign funding was being used “as a tool to isolate and stifle human rights groups in an attempt to undermine their moral position within society or to arbitrarily ban certain activities by drying up funds for them, including anti-torture activities and election monitoring, as occurred during Mubarak’s rule.”

This context, they said, “helps explain why the military police, accompanied by State Security Investigations and hired thugs, raided the Hisham Mubarak Legal Center on February 3, 2011, just one day after the so-called ‘Battle of the Camel’, arrested several lawyers, including the founder of the group well-known attorney Ahmed Seif al-Islam, and detained them in a military camp, along with researchers with Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International who were meeting at the Hisham Mubarak Law Center.”

They added, “It is noteworthy that while the military police were arresting lawyers and researchers on the upper floor, thugs stood outside the door of the building, accusing them of being ‘traitors and agents’.” Although this occurred while Mubarak was still president, these same accusations are now being used in a government smear campaign six months after Mubarak was deposed.

The groups concluded, “Using the pretext of national security to restrict human rights groups and funding for their activities is not an invention of Mubarak or his successors; it is the standard operating procedure of all authoritarian regimes.”

The groups demanded the dismissal of the Minister of International Cooperation, Fayza Abu al-Naga, and the Minister of Social Solidarity, Gouda Abd al-Khaleq, in light of their “hostile stance to civil society associations, their active role in restricting the activities of these associations, and their yielding to the dictates of the security apparatus.”

They also called for the SCAF to “immediately end the referral of civilians to military courts or any other exceptional investigative bodies, conduct civilian retrials for all those imprisoned based on sentences issued by these courts, and immediately release all prisoners of conscience and drop all charges against them.”

The SCAF must “end the government smear campaign against civil society associations and rights organizations… despite the arsenal of repressive laws used under Mubarak to enforce all manner of supervision and dominance over civil society and political parties.

The organizations also sent their complaint to various United Nations offices responsible for human rights.

The 36 groups include the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, the Center for Egyptian Women's Legal Assistance, the Center for Trade Union and Workers’ Services, the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, the Association of Researchers in Egyptian Universities and Institutes, the Hisham Mubarak Law Center, and Egyptians Against Religious Discrimination .