International community expresses alarm after raids on NGOs in Egypt

January 1st, 2012 - 8:08 pm ICT by BNO News  

CAIRO, EGYPT (BNO NEWS) — The international community expressed alarm on Friday and Saturday after seventeen non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were raided by Egyptian authorities on Thursday for allegedly receiving ‘illegal foreign funding.’

Several NGO offices in Cairo, the capital of Egypt, were raided by security forces who forced their way in, blocking entrances and exits, and seizing computers and paperwork. Reports also said that some employees had their mobiles phones confiscated as well.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the United States is deeply concerned that Egyptian judicial and police officials raided these NGO offices, which included the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute.

“This action is inconsistent with the bilateral cooperation we have had over many years,” Nuland said, adding that Ambassador Anne Patterson had been in touch with the Egyptian prime minister on this matter. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Feltman has also been in contact with the Egyptian ambassador to the U.S.

“We call on the Egyptian Government to immediately end the harassment of NGOs, NGO staff, return all property, and resolve this issue immediately,” Nuland added.

Frej Fenniche, Middle Eastern and North Africa chief of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) at the United Nations (UN), said it was the first time his office had heard of a similar raid being carried out against NGOs in Egypt, noting that such events had not occurred even under the regime of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.

“Such behavior on the part of the authorities appears to be clearly designed to intimidate human rights defenders who have long been critical of human rights violations in Egypt, including under the previous regime,” said Ravina Shamdasani, a spokesperson for OHCHR.

“The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights calls on the Government to cease the use of such unnecessarily heavy-handed measures and to ensure that civil society organisations can carry out their important work without undue interference,” she added.

British Foreign Office Minister Jeremy Browne also said his government is very concerned about the reports from Cairo. “We urge the Egyptian authorities to avoid taking any action that would make the democratic process less inclusive or inhibit the positive work of these and similar organisations,” Browne urged.

Noting that a number of Egyptian and foreign NGOs have been supporting the transition to democracy in Egypt, Browne said the “civil society has a vitally important role to play in that transition and should be encouraged and supported rather than impeded.”

Egyptian authorities have repeatedly blamed foreign-funded groups, including NGOs, for some of the political unrest which has rippled through Cairo and other cities since the ousting of Mubarak in February.

The raids on Thursday came after the Egyptian Justice Ministry said its inquiries have shown that several NGOs operating in Egypt have allegedly received illicit, unregistered funding from abroad. Local human rights activists fear the move may be part of a wider government crackdown targeting critics of violations committed by the ruling military council.

In September, the Cairo-based Arabic Network for Human Rights Information noted a ’sharp decline’ in freedom of opinion and expression in Egypt following the ouster of Mubarak.

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