A significant crackdown on civil society has been taking place since 2014. Egyptian authorities consolidated a hostile legal environment to muzzle dissent and curtail freedom of assembly, freedom of association, freedom of expression, media independence and digital rights. Peaceful protests are attacked and criminalized, no matter the size or issue.
HRDs including journalists, bloggers, LGBTI+ defenders, minority rights defenders and social and economic rights defenders have been detained, prosecuted and convicted under various repressive laws including assembly and protest laws and anti-cybercrime law. The counterterrorism laws enacted in 2015 and 2020 are legislative tools also used by the government to detain and prosecute HRDs. Several HRDs have been kept in pre-trial detention for prolonged periods. Detained and imprisoned HRDs suffer from inhumane detention conditions and some of them, including women human rights defenders (WHRDs), have been tortured and ill-treated.
Draconian restrictions on the establishment and independence of human rights NGOs, including their ability to receive foreign and domestic funding, were implemented by the 2019 NGOs law. Under a Presidential decree issued in September 2014, those convicted of receiving foreign funding deemed illegal are penalised with a life sentence. A trade unions law promulgated in December 2017 restricts the establishment of independent and free trade unions. The right to strike is severely restricted and workers who engage in strikes have been detained and prosecuted; in some cases workers have been brought before military courts, as they work in economic sectors controlled by the military (such as public transportation).
The government launched Case No. 173 to prosecute HRDs on charges of ‘illegally receiving foreign fund’ and ‘operating without legal permission’. The first part of this case which involved members of international NGOs was concluded in December 2018 when the Court of Cassation acquitted 43 NGOs workers who had been sentenced in abstentia by a lower court in 2013. However, targeting local groups under this case has continued. Since 2015, Egyptian authorities froze the assets of 7 NGOs and 10 HRDs, imposed travel ban orders against 30 HRDs and summoned more than 60 HRDs for interrogation. Pro-government media launched smear campaign against HRDs while the government tightened its digital surveillance and cyber-attacks against HRDs, investing in highly developed and sophisticated surveillance technology. In 2020, prominent HRDs and activists were prosecuted and sentenced to imprisonment under vaguely worded legal offences such as ‘publishing false news’ or ‘insulting the judiciary’ for their tweets and posts on Facebook.
WHRDs were subjected to various forms of intimidation and reprisals including preventive detention, gender-based violence and stigmatisation and travel ban to curb their public roles particularly for speaking out against sexual harassment and violence. Since August 2017, the government escalated its crackdown on LGBTI+ defenders, routinely arresting and detaining members of the LGBTI+ community and exposing them to torture, ill-treatment and sexual violence as well as inhumane detention conditions. LGBTI+ defenders were prosecuted under ‘debauchery’ and ‘prostitution’ legal provisions.