Young climate activists take part in demonstrations at the COP26 Climate Conference in Glasgow, Scotland last year. Credit: UN News/Laura Quiñones
In a statement released last month a group of UN independent human rights experts said authorities in Egypt must ensure civil society can safely and fully participate in the COP27 UN climate change conference, expressing alarm over restrictions ahead of the summit.
By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 8 2022 (IPS)
The COP27 climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh has triggered a negative fallout for Egypt’s authoritarian regime which stands accused of human rights abuses — and has been widely condemned for its longstanding repressive campaign against dissidents and civil society organizations (CSOs).
Writing in the current issue of Time magazine, Sahar Aziz, a professor at Rutgers University in the US, says “the Egyptian government has given summit access only to local governmental NGOs that support the regime”.
The Egyptian regime, he points out, has treated civil society as “enemies of the state”.
COP27 should be an opportunity for Egypt to lead by example. Instead, hosting the event seems like a political cover for its self-defeating repression of civil society, writes Aziz, author of ‘The Racial Muslim: When Racism Quashes Religious Freedom’.
In a hard-hitting statement released last week, Amnesty International (AI) said the arrest of hundreds of people in the past two weeks alone, in connection to calls for protests during the UN Climate Change Conference (COP27), is a reminder of the grim reality of Egypt’s policy of mass arbitrary detention to crush dissent.
At least 151 detainees are currently being investigated by the Supreme State Security Prosecution, while hundreds more have faced shorter arrests and questioning.
“The arrest of hundreds of people merely because they were suspected of supporting the call for peaceful protests raises serious concerns over how the authorities will respond to people wishing to protest during COP27 – an essential feature of any UN climate conference”.
“The Egyptian authorities must allow peaceful demonstrators to gather freely and refrain from using unlawful force or arbitrary arrests to deter protests,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Research and Advocacy Director.
“World leaders arriving in Sharm El-Sheikh for COP27 must not be fooled by Egypt’s public relations (PR) campaign. Away from the dazzling resort hotels, thousands of individuals including human rights defenders, journalists, peaceful protesters and members of the political opposition continue to be detained unjustly,”
“They must urge President Abdelfattah al-Sisi to release all those arbitrarily held for exercising their human rights. As a matter of urgency, this should include imprisoned activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, who today escalated his hunger strike to stop drinking water.”
Mandeep S. Tiwana, Chief Programmes Officer at CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, told IPS that hosting a global conference such as COP 27 places a special obligation on Egypt’s government to respect and enable the exercise of fundamental freedoms as per international law.
“The right to protest peacefully and the right against arbitrary detention are essential elements of international law. In the present instance, Egypt’s government can easily order the release of arbitrarily imprisoned prisoners of conscience and allow protests to take place without impediments as a sign of good faith,” he declared.
In a joint op-ed piece last week, Gadir Lavadenz, Global Coordinator, Global Campaign to Demand Climate Justice and Lidy Nacpil, Executive Director, Asian Peoples’ Movement on Debt and Development, write: climate conferences are increasingly becoming spaces for greenwashing of not just the big polluters’ crimes, but also of the regimes and presidencies hosting COP.
“COP27 is taking place in the Southern Sinai city of Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, and as all eyes turn to Egypt, the campaigns to Free Alaa and other political prisoners, as well as for civic space to open up in Egypt, is gaining momentum”.
At a UN press briefing November 7, several questions were raised about reports that the official COP app apparently requires access to the user’s location, their email, and their photos.
“This is in Egypt, but it’s a UN run conference. What is the UN’s view on the fact that this seems to be trolling for sensitive data and could be tracking people?”
And secondly, the wi fi at COP, which is a UN conference, is apparently restricting access to human rights organizations and some news organizations. What’s your reaction to those?”
In her response, Stéphanie Tremblay, Associate Spokesperson, said: “We have seen these reports. Let me start with the app. First of all, this app does not belong to the UN, so I will not have more comments on that.”
“But one thing that is important to note is that the UN itself through the UNFCCC [United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change] has an app, and everyone at the UN has been encouraging everyone to download and use this app”.
And then, as a general rule, “we advocate freedom of information, freedom of the press. That applies to everywhere around the world. For us, access is important, and we want to make sure that everyone that has to work is able to do the work they are there to do to the best”, said Tremblay.
Meanwhile, in its World Report 2022, Human Rights Watch said Egyptian authorities escalated the use of abusive Emergency State Security Courts to prosecute peaceful activists and critics who joined thousands of dissidents already in the country’s congested prisons.
And Courts issued death sentences in mass trials, adding to the sharply escalating number of executions.
“The government in January issued implementing regulations for the 2019 NGO law that codified draconian restrictions on independent organizations. The authorities failed to appropriately investigate a high-profile gang-rape, and key witnesses remain under extrajudicial travel bans after being jailed for months in apparent retaliation for coming forward.”
HRW also said the army continues to impose severe restrictions on movement and demolished hundreds of buildings in north Sinai in the name of fighting Wilayat Sinai, a local affiliate of the Islamic State (ISIS).
“These demolitions likely amount to war crimes,” HRW said.
In the run up to the climate summit (6 November-18 November), Egyptian authorities released 766 prisoners following a decision by President al-Sisi to reactivate a Presidential Pardons Committee (PPC) in April, said Amnesty International.
Yet over the same period, Amnesty International has documented the arrest of double that number; 1,540 people who were questioned over the exercising of free speech and association.
In the past six months, Amnesty International has gathered data from dozens of lawyers who regularly attend interrogations and detention renewal hearings, reviewed court decisions and other official documents, and interviewed former prisoners as well as relatives of detainees.
In recent weeks, security forces have arrested and detained hundreds of people in downtown Cairo and town squares across Egyptian cities over content on their phones — a tactic often employed by police ahead of expected protests.
While most were released within hours or days, some were taken to prosecutors, while others remain subject to enforced disappearance according to 11 lawyers in Cairo, Alexandria, Sharqiya and Dakahliya.
In September, Abdelsalam Abdelghani, 55, was arrested at his home on the outskirts of Cairo. Prosecutors questioned him about a Facebook group called “Our right”, including posts calling for protests on 11 November.
The prosecutor questioned him on accusations of spreading “false news” and being “a member of a terrorist group” before ordering his detention pending an investigation, according to Amnesty International.
According to the website of the Egyptian presidency for COP27, anyone wishing to organize protests in Sharm El-Sheikh must inform the authorities 36 hours in advance and show the organizers a COP27 badge.
Protests will only be allowed between 10:00-17:00 in an area far from the conference and monitored by cameras. The authorities have also limited the content of protests to climate related issues.
Amnesty International finds these measures to be unnecessary and disproportionate, aimed at restricting the ability of individuals to protest safely in a way that allows them to be seen and heard.
IPS UN Bureau Report
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