Sign the petition to Demand Free Speech and reforms ahead of the 2022 UN COP27 climate conference in Egypt!
The COP27 2022 conference on the climate is slated to be held in Egypt where President Al-Sisi brutally persecutes and imprisons journalists and activists. Sign our letter to demand free speech and reforms in Egypt ahead of COP27!
Dear Conference of Parties (COP) Bureau (Mr. Alok Sharma, Mr. Ephraim Mwepya Shitima, Mr. Muhammad Irfan, Ms. Anne Rasmussen, Ms. Gabriela Fischerova, Mr. Carlos Fuller, Mr. Javier Gutierrez Ramirez, Mr. Tosi Mpanu Mpanu, Ms. Marianne Karlsen, and Ms. Iryna Stavchuk),
We are writing to ask that you reconsider your decision to hold the 2022 Conference of Parties Summit (COP27) in Egypt or prioritize the safety of COP27 participants by advocating for free speech protections and reforms in Egypt ahead of the conference. Your choice to have Egypt host the gathering not only limits the possibility of an ambitious agreement, it will shield Egyptian President Abdel Al-Sisi from accountability for his gross human rights abuses and put Egyptian and international civil society at risk.
The limited progress the international community has made in addressing climate change would not have even happened without the mobilization and engagement of civil society. Holding a COP in one of the world’s most repressive states poses a concrete risk to the freedom and rights of Egyptian and international activists. It also creates a political environment which will limit peoples’ freedom of expression and diminish pressure on the negotiators to be ambitious, when the timescale of the climate crisis demands every government to take much more radical action.
Issues of inclusivity were already a significant concern at COP26 in Glasgow which was widely condemned as the ‘whitest and most privileged’ summit ever. “Civil society voices are critical to the outcome of COP, but we’ve not been able to do our jobs,” said Tasneem Essop, the executive director of Climate Action Network (CAN), which represents more than 1,500 organizations in over 130 countries. “There are thousands of activists who should be here but who are missing and there is a shocking degree of closing space for civil society and frontline voices … it is offensive, unjust and unacceptable,” said Gina Cortes of the Women and Gender Constituency.
If inclusivity goals were deficient at COP26, they would be near impossible in a COP27 hosted by Egypt, given Sisi’s autocratic rule and attacks on civil society.
Climate justice is not possible without political freedom and defense of the rights of those most impacted by climate change. Environmental defenders are already one of the most vulnerable sectors of the population. Worldwide, 1540 environment and land defenders were killed between 2012 and 2020. Holding COP27 in Eqypt sends a dangerous signal to the world on the point of climate breakdown, that authoritarianism and repression of environmental and human rights defenders is sanctioned by the international community.
President Al-Sisi’s record of authoritarian and repressive rule:
In July 2013, General Sisi seized control of Egypt in a military coup that removed Mohammed Morsi, the country’s first democratically elected leader. The following month, on August 14, Sisi’s military massacred approximately 1,000 peaceful protestors in Rabaa al-Adawiya Square. Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth called the Rabaa massacre “one of the worst killing of demonstrators in a single day in recent history,” pointing out that the violence was “intentionally planned at the highest levels of Egyptian society.” Between July 2013 and May 2014, Egyptian authorities detained, charged, or sentenced over 40,000 people. Many of the detainees — demonstrators, human rights advocates, and journalists — were held without trial, brutally treated, subjected to mass trials with no due process and sentenced to death.
In 2015, President Sisi governed without an elected parliament, giving himself almost total impunity for his attacks on civil and political rights. In April 2019, Sisi’s government passed constitutional amendments allowing the leader to remain in power until 2030. That fall, Egyptian authorities launched their biggest crackdown since Sisi seized power in 2013. According to Amnesty International, over 2,300 people, including more than 111 children, were taken into custody in sweeping and targeted arrests of peaceful protesters, journalists, human rights attorneys, politicians, and political activists.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the already abysmal prison conditions in Egypt.
On August 19, 2019, President Al-Sisi ratified a new NGO law containing numerous draconian provisions to stifle local and foreign NGOs, inhibit an independent civil society, and violate international human rights obligations. Under the NGO law, all civic groups must receive state licenses to operate or face dissolution. Informal, unregistered organizations are illegal and the state reserves the right to suspend license applications at any time for minor administrative errors or on vague grounds. Egyptian government entities have vast, arbitrary powers to interfere in NGOs’ work, including by entering NGO premises without prior notice and NGO’s may not cooperate in any way with any kind with a “foreign entity inside or outside the country.” Employment of foreigners, even as volunteers, are illegal without a license from the Minister of Social Solidarity.
In 2011, Egyptian authorities raided the headquarters of multiple NGOs in what would become the notorious “Case 173.” 43 defendants from 20 NGO were charged with recieving foreign fundings, had their assets frozen, were subjected to travel bans, and were sentenced to between one and five years in prison. In 2018, the original 43 men were acquited and in 2020 the case was officially closed. However, in July of 2021, the investigative judge from the Case 173 interrogated at least five directors of NGOs, over their human rights work. Those interrogated included Gamal Eid, director of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information; Hossam Bahgat, founder and director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights; Mozn Hassan, head of Nazra for Feminist Studies; Azza Soliman, director of the Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance; and human rights lawyer Negad al-Borai.
Some of the Egyptians targeted by Sisi’s regime include:
- Human rights activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, who was sentenced to five years in prison in December 2021, Egyptian human rights lawyer Mohamed al-Baqer, who had previously represented Fattah, and Egyptian blogger Mohamed Ibrahim, known as “Oxygen,” were each sentenced to four years in prison on the same day. All three men were charged with “spreading false news undermining national security.” Under the rules of the court, there is no possibility for the men to appeal; the sentences can only be overturned by President Al-Sisi or someone he delegates.
- Dr. Ahmed Amasha, a veterinarian, environmental activist, and a trade unionist has been subjected to forced disappearance and torture at the hands of the Egyptian security apparatus. While imprisoned, Dr. Amasha was prohibited from receiving visitors, exercising, meeting with his lawyer, going outside, reading books, or even going to the doctors even after prison officers broke his rib.
- Hossam Bahgat is an Egyptian human rights activist and the founder of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. He was arrested in November 2015 on charges of "publishing false news that harms national interests and disseminating information that disturbs public peace" following his investigation of the trial of several military officers. In November 2021, an Egyptian court found Bahgat guilty of a tweet that “insulted the country” and fined him 10,000 Egyptian pounds (about $636).
- In February 2020, the authorities arrested Patrick George Zaki from the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) for “disseminating false news” after he wrote an article about discrimination against Egypt’s Christian minority. He was detained for 19 months without trial and tortured before being released on bail. If convicted, Zaki faces 5 years in jail.
- In April 2021, Egypt arrested Hoda Abdel Hamid in response to her filing a complaint about the alleged torture and sexual assault of her imprisoned son Abdelrahman Gamal Metwally al-Showweikh. Human Rights Watch has called for the immediate release of Hoda Abdel Hamid and an investigation into the torture and assault allegations.
The Egyptian government has passed draconian laws against protests. In October 2020, when Egyptians dared to challenge the government in peaceful protests, the government used teargas, batons, birdshot, and even live ammunition against them. Hundreds of people were detained, including many who were not even involved in the protests. According to Amnesty International, “The authorities have yet again resorted to their usual tactics of violence and mass arrests to send a clear message that no form of protest will be tolerated.”
No safety for international groups either
International groups that tried to have peaceful meetings in Egypt since Sisi came to power have also been severely repressed. In 2014, when the U.S.-based women’s peace group CODEPINK tried to bring 100 international women to Cairo to discuss Gaza, the organizer, Medea Benjamin, was detained at the airport, beaten up by security police who dislocated her shoulder and then deported. The rest of the women were denied entry.
Therefore, for the sake of imprisoned and persecuted Egyptian human rights defenders, for concern about the wellbeing of COP attendees, for the necessity of an ambitious and just COP, and in order to send a message to President Sisi that his human rights abuses are unacceptable, we the undersigned call on you to reverse your decision to host COP27 in Egypt. If you do not reverse your decision to hold COP27 in Egypt we ask you to require the following of Egypt:
- Cancel the law targeting NGOs
- Free climate and civil society and all political prisoners
- Cease all targeting of Human Rights Defenders and minorities, including the Coptic Christain community
- Open the Rafa border crossing into Gaza leading up to, during, and following COP27 so that international organizations may enter and Palestinians in Gaza, a site of severe environmental degradation, may participate in the summit.
*This petition is endorsed by the following organizations and to add your group, click here:
Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN)
Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedom
Egyptians Abroad for Democracy Now
Indiana Center for Middle East Peace
Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN)
International Association of People’s Lawyers
Muslim Peace Fellowship
Progressive Democrats of America
Rainforest Action Network
Rethinking Foreign Policy