Activist

A coalition of 45 civil society organisations (CSOs) and human right groups has called on Egyptian authorities to cease the harassment and persecution of prominent human rights activist and journalist, Hossam Bahgat.

The human rights organisations, including Amnesty International (AI), Human Rights Watch (HRW), Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED), say Bahgat faces abusive charges intended to punish him solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression.

Bahgat, who is also the Executive Director and founder of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), is charged with ‘insulting the elections authority’, ‘spreading false news’, and ‘using a social media account to commit these crimes’.

Bahgat, in a tweet on 20 December, 2020, criticised the former head of Egypt’s National Elections Authority, the late Lashin Ibrahim, for his oversight of parliamentary elections.

The charges against Bahgat carry a penalty of up to three years in prison and a fine of up to EGP 330,000 (U.S.$19,000) under Egypt’s penal code and a 2018 cybercrime law.

In November 2020, three top EIPR staff members – Gasser Abdel-Razek, Karim Ennarah, and Mohamed Basheer – were detained for several days on unfounded terrorism charges following their meeting with European diplomats about Egypt’s human rights crisis.

They were released within days following a global outcry but all three remain subject to travel bans and asset freezes.

‘As part of their unrelenting assault on the human rights movement, Egyptian authorities have a long track record of targeting Hossam Bahgat and other directors and staff at EIPR, one of Egypt’s leading human rights organisations, through unjust prosecutions, arbitrary arrests and detention, travel bans and asset freezes’, AI Middle East and North Africa Research and Advocacy Director, Philip Luther, said.

AI had accused Egypt’s National Security Agency of attempting to harass and intimidate human rights activists into silence.

Egyptian security forces, according to the U.S. State Department Egypt 2020 Human Rights Report, had carried out arbitrary arrests, torture, and enforced disappearances and other gross human rights violations.

According to Human Right Watch (HRW), Egypt has been experiencing its worst human rights crisis in many decades under Al-Sisi’s government, with tens of thousands of government critics imprisoned on politically motivated charges.

Freedom House, in its 2021 Freedom in the World report, classified the north African country as ‘not free’ with the country earning 18 out of a possible 100 points.

Freedom House also noted that Egyptian authorities escalated repression of perceived dissidents throughout the year, including jailing journalists and activists.

‘The Egyptian government needs to halt its relentless persecution of Hossam Bahgat. These endless legal proceedings look like a clear reprisal against Bahgat’s storied legacy of defending human rights’, HRW Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director, Joe Stork, noted.

The verdict in the trial of Bahgat is expected on 29 November, 2021.

Source: Amnesty International

Photo source: Amnesty International

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