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Rights groups call on Egypt to allow peaceful protests at COP27

July 13, 2022 at 12:32 pm

Protesters in Cairo, Egypt [Kuni Takahashi/Getty Images]

Over 35 human rights organisations have called on Egyptian authorities to allow peaceful protests to take place at COP27.

Journalists, government representatives and experts will meet in the Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in November to discuss rights-based climate action.

But for months activists and rights organisations have expressed severe concern about what will happen to protesters given that Egypt has effectively banned the right to gather and jailed thousands of demonstrators since 2013.

Traditionally protests at the global conference last for days but in 2013 Cairo issued a law criminalising protests, punishable by jail sentences and hefty fines.

Egypt’s foreign minister has said there will be a facility adjacent to the conference centre for people wishing to protest, but rights groups say this will hinder the meaningful participation of activists, civil society and indigenous peoples’ representatives.

“Egyptian authorities should ease their grip on civic space and uphold the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly to enable a successful climate summit,” the 36 organisations said.

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The groups have said that international human rights law stipulates the protests can be heard within “sight and sound” of their target audience and that authorities should unconditionally allow gatherings at the climate-change conference and across Egypt.

Yet Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry’s previous comments “imply that the Egyptian authorities will not tolerate protests outside this ‘government designated’ space,” the joint statement said.

Egypt has a dire history of freedom of expression and assembly, with nearly 1,000 protesters arrested in September 2019 alone.

Last month, the Czech-based Egyptian Front for Human Rights demanded that environmental expert Ahmed Al-Khouly be released ahead of COP27, after spending almost three years in prison on fabricated charges.

Ahmed, 68, was arrested during the September crackdown from his home by plain clothes policemen and interrogated about the Independence Party, which he is a leader of.

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Ahmed is also a professor of the environment at the Desert Research Centre and has worked as an environmental expert at the Arab Organisation for Agricultural Development.

Environmental activist Ahmed Amasha has been detained since the summer of 2020, forcibly disappeared and tortured.

He has been banned from receiving visitors, exercising, meeting his lawyers, reading books and from receiving adequate medical care.

In May, Human Rights Watch (HRW) criticised the choice of Egypt as host for the conference warning that the authoritarian state could use the event to “whitewash its appalling record of human rights abuses.”

The rights watchdog also called on Egypt to release Amasha. Roughly 60,000 political prisoners are inside Egypt’s jails and are systematically tortured and denied medical attention.

Currently, one of the most high-profile political prisoners is 2011 revolution icon Alaa Abdelfattah, who has been on hunger strike for over 100 days.

In a message sent from inside prison, Alaa asked why Egypt was hosting the UN climate summit when it had banned protests itself and imprisoned thousands of people.