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  • Middle East and North Africa

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Last updated: 2 Jul

Human rights defender's story: Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF; Hodal Abdel Moneim & Ezzat Ghoneim)

Story behind

In Egypt, the work of NGOs and human rights defenders is tightly restricted by a law passed in 2019, which comes as a continuation of an already widely criticised law passed in 2017.

Though the 2019 law has swapped planned prison sentences for breaches with hefty fines, it maintains draconian restrictions on NGOs. This law requires that organisations abide by vaguely worded and sweeping concerns of "national security" and "public morality" in order to gain legal recognition in a state registry.

It also limits the activities of registered organisations to serving what authorities call "the State’s development plans and the needs of the society", requiring all registered entities to seek yearly approval for their work and strictly limiting their access to foreign funding.

Both iterations of the law on NGOs have severely curtailed the ability of Egyptian NGOs to engage with the UN, which is considered a reprisal for some organisations’ previous engagement in the country’s Universal Public Review in 2014.

Several members of the Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF) were arrested in 2018 under charges including ‘providing international entities with false news’. The ECRF is a Cairo-based organisation that provides legal advice to families of victims of enforced disappearance and documents human rights violations. It has engaged with UN mechanisms.

What happened

Hodal Abdel Moneim is a woman human rights defender, a lawyer and an ECRF board member. She has also served in Egypt’s National Council for Human Rights. She was arrested on 1 November 2018, with security services reportedly ransacking her house, presenting no warrant and no reason for her arrest and providing no information to her family.

Hodal Abdel Moneim was then kept in secret detention for 21 days and was interrogated frequently in the middle of the night, without any access to legal counsel. Her family was never informed of her whereabouts. On 21 November 2018, she was brought before Egypt's Supreme State Security Prosecution (SSSP) and was charged with "joining and funding a terrorist organisation", as well as "incitement to harm national economy" - charges that are frequently brought against human rights defenders.

Since 30 January 2019, Hoda Abdel Moneim has been held in Al Qanater Female Prison, deprived of visits by her relatives or her lawyer. On 29 November 2020, her family received information from a co-detainee that she had suffered sharp pain.

During a court hearing in October 2021, she said that she had a heart attack and is in need of treatment, yet she continues to be denied the necessary medical treatment. On 13 June 2022, the Emergency State Security Court adjourned her trial until 16 August 2022.

Human rights defender Ezzat Ghoneim had served as executive director of the ECRF since 2014, focusing on matters related to fair trial guarantees and enforced disappearances.

On 1 March 2018, Ghoneim was arrested and held in secret detention until 4 March 2018. He was interrogated without access to his lawyers and was charged with "affiliation to a banned group", "spreading false news", as well as "providing international entities with false news".

Though a court ordered his release with precautionary measures on 4 September 2018, he was never released and became the subject of another case on similar charges. He was held incommunicado for close to five months, between October 2018 and February 2019, at Al-Qanater men's prison. During this time, he was also prevented from receiving family visits and contacting or meeting with his lawyer.

On 23 August 2021, the State Security Prosecutor ordered the referral of Ghoneim to trial before the Emergency State Security Criminal Court. On 13 June 2022, his trial was adjourned until 16 August 2022.

What do we want

ISHR calls on the government of Egypt to take specific actions to resolve both of these cases, to publicly commit to protecting human rights defenders and condemn any intimidation or reprisals against them.

What do we want

ISHR calls on the government of Egypt to take specific actions to resolve both of these cases, to publicly commit to protecting human rights defenders and condemn any intimidation or reprisals against them.

How you can take action

Look through our 2021 campaign to learn more about ISHR's work to #EndReprisals against human rights defenders and how you can help us ensure they are able to work safely and effectively wherever they are, including unhindered engagement with the UN and other major international human rights bodies.