COP27: Egypt’s repressive regime under fire as it hosts key climate summit


Young climate activists take part in demonstrations at the COP26 Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland last year. Credit: UN News/Laura Quiñones
  • by Thalif Deen (United Nations)
  • Inter Press Service

In a statement released last month, a group of independent UN human rights experts said authorities in Egypt must ensure that civil society can safely and fully participate in the COP27 UN climate conference, voicing concerns about restrictions ahead of time. at the top.

In the current issue of Time magazine, Sahar Aziz, a professor at Rutgers University in the US, writes that “the Egyptian government has only granted access to the summit to local 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, organizing the event appears to be a political cover for the self-defeating repression of civil society, writes Aziz, author of “The Racial Muslim: When Racism Quashes Religious Freedom.”

In a tough statement released last week, Amnesty International (AI) said the arrest of hundreds of people in the past two weeks alone, over calls to protest at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27), is a reminder. to the stark reality of Egypt’s policy of mass arbitrary detention to quell dissent.

At least 151 detainees are currently under investigation by the Supreme State Security Prosecution, while hundreds more have undergone shorter-term arrests and interrogations.

“The arrest of hundreds of people just because they were suspected of supporting the call for peaceful protests raises serious concerns about how authorities will respond to people who want to protest at COP27 – an essential feature of any UN climate conference.”

“Egyptian authorities must allow peaceful protesters to gather freely and refrain from using unlawful force or arbitrary arrests to deter protests,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Director of Research and Advocacy for the Middle East. and North Africa.

“World leaders arriving in Sharm El-Sheikh for COP27 should not be fooled by Egypt’s PR campaign. Outside the dazzling resort hotels, thousands of individuals, including human rights defenders, journalists, peaceful protesters and members of the political opposition, continue to be unjustly detained.”

“They should urge President Abdelfattah al-Sisi to release all those arbitrarily detained for exercising their human rights. This urgently needs to include imprisoned activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, who escalated his hunger strike today to stop drinking water.”

Mandeep S. Tiwana, Chief Programs Officer at CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, told IPS that hosting a global conference like COP 27 implies a special obligation on the Egyptian government to respect fundamental freedoms under international law and to make possible.

“The right to protest peacefully and the right against arbitrary detention are essential elements of international law. In the present case, the Egyptian government can easily order the release of arbitrarily imprisoned prisoners of conscience and allow the protests to take place unimpeded as a sign of good faith,” he said.

In a joint op-ed last week, Gadir Lavadenz, Global Coordinator, Global Campaign to Demand Climate Justice and Lidy Nacpil, Executive Director, Asian Peoples’ Movement on Debt and Development, wrote: Climate conferences are increasingly becoming spaces for greenwashing not just the crimes of the big polluters, but also of the regimes and presidents that host COP.

“COP27 is taking place in the southern Sinai city of Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, and while all eyes are on Egypt, campaigns to free Alaa and other political prisoners, as well as to open up public spaces in Egypt, are becoming increasingly popular. taller. speed”.

At a UN press briefing on Nov. 7, several questions were raised about reports that the official COP app apparently needs access to the user’s location, email, and photos.

“This is in Egypt, but it is a UN conference. What is the UN’s view that this appears to be trolling for sensitive data and could be tracking people?”

And second, the Wi-Fi at COP, a UN conference, apparently limits access to human rights organizations and some news organizations. What is your reaction to that?”

In her response, Stéphanie Tremblay, Associate Spokesperson said: “We have seen these reports. Let me start with the app. First, this app is not from the UN, so I won’t comment further on that.”

“But one thing that is important to note is that the UN itself has an app through the UNFCCC, and everyone at the UN has encouraged everyone to download and use this app.”

And then, as a general rule, “We advocate freedom of information, freedom of the press. That applies everywhere in the world. Access is important to us and we want to make sure that everyone who has to work can do the work they do to the best of their ability,” said Tremblay.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch said in its World Report 2022 that Egyptian authorities have escalated the use of violent state security courts to prosecute peaceful activists and critics who had joined thousands of dissidents already in the country’s overcrowded prisons.

And courts handed down death sentences in mass trials, contributing to the sharply escalating number of executions.

“The government issued implementing regulations in January for the 2019 NGO law that codified draconian restrictions on independent organizations. Authorities have failed to properly investigate a high-profile gang rape, and key witnesses remain under extrajudicial travel bans after serving months in prison in apparent retaliation for coming forward.”

HRW also said the military continues to impose severe restrictions on movement and has demolished hundreds of buildings in northern Sinai in the name of fighting against Wilayat Sinai, a local branch of the Islamic State (ISIS).

“These vandalism probably amounts to war crimes,” HRW said.

In the run-up to the climate summit (Nov. 6 to Nov. 18), Egyptian authorities released 766 prisoners following a decision by President al-Sisi in April to reactivate a Presidential Pardons Committee (PPC), Amnesty International said.

But in the same period, Amnesty International has documented the arrest of double the number; 1,540 people were questioned about the exercise of freedom of expression and association.

Over the past six months, Amnesty International has collected data from dozens of lawyers who regularly attend detention extension hearings, reviewed court rulings and other official documents, and interviewed former inmates and relatives of detainees.

In recent weeks, security forces have arrested and detained hundreds of people in central Cairo and in squares in Egyptian cities via content on their phones – a tactic often used by police in anticipation of expected protests.

While most were released within hours or days, some were taken to prosecutors, while others are still victims of enforced disappearances, 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,” which included posts calling for protests on Nov. 11.

The prosecutor questioned him on charges of spreading “false news” and “being a member of a terrorist group” before ordering his arrest pending an investigation, Amnesty International said.

According to the website of the Egyptian COP27 presidency, anyone wishing to organize protests in Sharm El-Sheikh must inform authorities 36 hours in advance and show the organizers a COP27 badge.

Protests are only allowed between 10am-5pm in an area far from the conference and are monitored by cameras. Authorities have also limited the content of protests to climate-related issues.

Amnesty International finds these measures unnecessary and disproportionate, aimed at limiting the ability of individuals to protest safely in a way that allows them to be seen and heard.

Report of the IPS UN Office

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© Inter Press Service (2022) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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