Release Hafez Abu-Se'da

Human Rights Watch Letter to President Mubarak, Dec. 2

2 December 1998

His Excellency Hosni Mubarak

President of the Arab Republic of Egypt

Abedine Palace

Cairo, Egypt

Your Excellency:

Human Rights Watch was deeply alarmed to learn that on December 1, 1998, the Higher State Security Prosecution Office ordered the detention for fifteen days of Hafez Abu Sa'da, a lawyer and secretary-general of the internationally respected, Cairo-based Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR). We understand that the prosecution office summoned Mr. Abu Sa'da to appear on December 1 as a witness in the investigation that it launched on November 24 concerning the EOHR report published in September 1998 and entitled "Collective punishment in al-Kosheh village: Random arrest, torture and degrading treatment of citizens." The investigation also reportedly included examination of financial support that EOHR received from the Human Rights Committee of the British House of Commons through the British embassy in Cairo, and allegations made in the Egyptian press that these funds financed the September report.

It was shocking to learn yesterday that Mr. Abu Sa'da was no longer a witness in this investigation, but had been charged with three criminal offenses: dissemination abroad of false information harmful to Egypt's national interests; accepting funds from a foreign country for the purpose of carrying out acts harmful to Egypt; and receiving donations without obtaining permission from Egyptian authorities.

In our view, the accusations against Mr. Abu Sa'da constitute gross state interference in essential aspects of EOHR's work, and represent a direct threat to the entire human rights community in Egypt. Any human rights organization must be able to monitor, document, and freely disseminate information about rights violations if it is to carry out its mandate and function as an independent nongovernmental organization. As a watchdog, a human rights group must focus domestic and international attention on policies and practices of the government that depart from internationally recognized human rights standards, including the right to liberty and security of person, and the prohibition against arbitrary arrest, torture, and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. A parallel aspect of the work is to press for accountability and an end to the impunity of abusive police and security forces and other violators of human rights. In EOHR's September report, it called on Egyptian authorities "to conduct impartial and independent judicial investigations into all allegations of torture" reported by residents of al-Kosheh village, and "to bring those responsible to justice." Human Rights Watch endorses this recommendation.

It is unconscionable that state security prosecutors in Egypt have brought charges against the head of a leading human rights organization for investigating and reporting police abuse of hundreds of citizens, including women and children, as police attempted to identify suspects in the murder of two Kosheh residents in August 1998. As a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Egypt is obligated to respect and to ensure to all individuals within its territory the rights recognized in the Covenant, including Article 19, which guarantees freedom of expression. Article 19 protects the right of individuals, including individuals who have joined in free association with others, to enjoy the freedom to impart information and ideas of all kinds. The right to disseminate freely information about human rights abuses -- both domestically and to the international community -- is a critical component of freedom of expression, and should never be suppressed in the name of national security, public order, or harming the image of a state.

Human Rights Watch is also deeply concerned about mounting evidence that Egyptian authorities are seeking to control and restrict not only the activities of independent human rights organizations but also their sources of funding. The draft law on private associations that circulated earlier this year contained provisions giving the executive branch of government virtually unlimited power to control the finances and budgets of independent NGOs. It required that NGOs obtain prior approval from administrative authorities before obtaining funds from abroad, and likewise permitted groups to solicit donations inside Egypt only after securing approval from the same authorities. The right to freedom of association guaranteed in Article 22 of the ICCPR includes the right to seek and obtain funds. As we communicated toYour Excellency in a letter dated June 5, 1998, the state is entitled to ensure that NGOs conduct their activities and fundraising in a transparent and accountable manner. But such regulation should be reasonable and not interfere with the exercise of the right to freedom of association or expression. We fear that the charges lodged yesterday against Hafez Abu Sa'da are dangerous precedents which fundamentally imperil both of these rights.

As the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights fast approaches, we respectfully call upon the Egyptian government to protect the rights of the country's human rights defenders, and to cease all forms of intimidation and harassment of human rights organizations. We strongly urge the immediate release of Hafez Abu Sa'da, and that all charges against him be dropped and prosecutors close the file.

Thank you in advance for your prompt consideration of this most urgent matter. We look forward to a reply at Your Excellency's earliest convenience.


Hanny Megally

Executive Director

Middle East and North Africa Division

Human Rights Watch


His Excellency Dr. Kamal Ahmad al-Ganzury, Prime Minister

His Excellency Amre Moussa, Minister of Foreign Affairs

His Excellency Shaaban Mohammed Mahmoud Shaaban, Embassy of Egypt, Brussels

His Excellency Adel Elgazzar, Embassy of Egypt, London

His Excellency Ahmed Maher El Sayed, Embassy of Egypt, Washington, D.C.

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