Egypt faces criticism over crackdown on activists ahead of COP27 climate summit



CNN

As Egypt prepares to host the COP27 climate summit starting on Sunday, it is facing criticism for what rights groups say is a crackdown on protests and activists.

Human rights organizations have accused the Egyptian government of arbitrarily arresting Egyptian activists who have called for protests abroad against President Abdel Fattah Sisi on November 11 during the United Nations climate talks.

Security forces are setting up checkpoints on the streets of Cairo, detaining people and searching their phones for any content related to the planned protests, according to human rights groups.

The Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF), a non-governmental organization, said on Wednesday that 93 people had been arrested in Egypt in recent days. It says that, according to investigations by the National Security Prosecutor’s Office, some of the detainees allegedly sent videos calling for protests against social messaging apps. Some have also been accused of abusing social media, spreading fake news and joining terrorist organizations – repressive charges commonly used by the security apparatus against activists.

Indian climate activist Ajit Rajagopal was arrested in Cairo last Sunday after a protest march from the Egyptian capital to Sharm el-Sheikh, the Red Sea resort where the COP27 conference will be held from November 6 to 18. brief detention in Cairo together with his friend, lawyer Makarios Lahzi, a Facebook post of Lahzi said. Reuters, who spoke to Rajagopal after his release on Monday, quoted the Indian activist as saying that he is still seeking accreditation for COP27 but has no plans to continue his march.

CNN has reached out to Egyptian authorities for comment.

Egypt experienced two popular uprisings in 2011 and 2013, which eventually paved the way for Sisi, the military commander at the time, to take power. Since then, thousands of activists have been jailed, spaces for public expression have been closed, and press freedom has been curtailed.

While protests are rare and often illegal in Egypt, the looming economic crisis and brutal security regime have led to renewed calls for protests to take advantage of the rare window of opportunity offered by the climate summit.

Imprisoned activist, British Egyptian citizen Alaa Abdel Fattah, escalated his hunger strike in an Egyptian prison this week amid warnings from relatives about his deteriorating health. “Alaah has been on hunger strike for 200 days and survives on just 100 liquid calories a day,” said Sanaa Saif, Abdul Fattah’s sister, who is rallying outside the British Foreign Office in London.

The COP, the annual UN-sponsored climate summit that brings together signatories to the Paris Agreement to combat climate change, is typically the venue for civil society representatives to meet with experts and policymakers and observe the negotiations.

It’s not uncommon to see a young activist approach a national delegation walking down the corridor to their next meeting, or an Indigenous leader talking to a minister on the sidelines of a debate.

And while security is always tight – after all, this is a gathering involving dozens of heads of state and government – ​​peaceful protests have always been part of the COP. During this conference, tens of thousands of people marched through the streets of last year’s host city, Glasgow, Scotland.

However, Egypt has tightened rules on who can enter the talks.

As before, this year’s COP conference will be held at two different sites. The official part of the conference is hosted by the United Nations and is open only to accredited persons, including official delegations, representatives of non-governmental organizations and other civil society groups, experts, journalists and other observers.

Then there is a separate public space where exhibitions and climate events will be held during the two weeks of the summit. But while this public part of the conference has been open to everyone in the past, those who want to attend this year must register in advance.

The possibility of protest will also be limited.

While the Egyptian government has promised to allow demonstrations, it has said protests must be held in a special “protest zone,” a space separated from the main conference venue, and must be announced in advance. Guidelines published on the COP’s official website state that any other marches must be specifically approved.

Anyone who wants to organize a protest must register for the public part of the conference—a requirement that can scare activists away from fear of surveillance. Among the rules imposed by Egyptian authorities against protests is a ban on the use of “self-identifying objects, such as caricatures of heads of state, negotiators and individuals.”

The UN asked Egypt to ensure that the people speak at the conference.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk said it was “important that everyone, including representatives of civil society, can effectively participate in COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh” and that decisions on climate change should be “transparent, be inclusive and inclusive”. is responsible”.

Separately, a group of five independent human rights experts, all of whom are UN special rapporteurs, issued a statement last month expressing concern about the restrictions ahead of the summit. They said the Egyptian government had imposed tight restrictions on who could participate in the talks and how, adding that “a wave of government restrictions on participation has fueled fears of prosecution against activists.”

“This new wave of continuous and ongoing persecution against civil society and human rights defenders is being used as an excuse to undermine civil society’s legitimate rights to participate in government affairs in Egypt,” the organization said in a statement.

A group of Egyptian civil rights organizations have sent a petition asking the Egyptian authorities to end the persecution of activists and civil society organizations and to stop restrictions on the right to freedom of speech, association and peaceful assembly.

“Egyptian authorities have for years used draconian laws, including anti-terrorism, cybercrime and anti-civil society laws, to suppress any peaceful opposition and block civil space,” the petition said.

Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Friends of the Earth and a number of other groups have also raised their voices and demanded the release of the arrested activists.

Ahead of the climate conference, the Egyptian government proposed an initiative that would grant amnesty to prisoners imprisoned for their political activities. Officials also pointed to a new prison, Badr-3, 70 kilometers (43 miles) northeast of Cairo, where other inmates have been moved to better conditions.

But human rights groups said the government’s initiatives have made little difference.

“Ahead of COP27, Egypt’s PR machine is working on all cylinders to hide the terrible reality in the country’s prisons, where politically motivated prisoners are held in appalling conditions that violate the absolute prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment,” he said. Agnes Callamard. , Secretary General of Amnesty International.

“Prisoners face the same human rights abuses that have repeatedly undermined old institutions, exposing the Egyptian authorities’ lack of political will to end the country’s human rights crisis.”

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