No Progress on Democratic Transition, Basic Freedoms
(New York)– The US should acknowledge in its certification review for resuming certain military aid that Egypt has made no progress on developing basic freedoms or on its democratic transition, Human Rights Watch said in a letter it delivered on March 31, 2014, to US Secretary of State John Kerry.
Since assuming power on July 3, 2013, Egypt’s military-backed government has killed well over 1,000 protesters and locked up more than 16,000 people, many solely on the basis of their peaceful exercise of rights to free expression, association, and peaceful assembly. The mass death sentences handed down by an Egyptian court to 529 alleged members of the Muslim Brotherhood on March 24, in a trial lacking even basic elements of due process, is but one example of an escalating climate of extreme political repression.
“The question is no longer whether Egypt is on the road to democratic transition, but how much of its brute repression the US will paper over,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “An accurate appraisal of Egypt’s record since the military-backed overthrow of President Morsy would conclude that, far from developing basic freedoms, the Egyptian authorities are doing the opposite.”
Under its Fiscal Year 2014 Omnibus Appropriations Bill, Secretary Kerry must certify that Egypt is “taking steps to support a democratic transition… and for the development of… basic freedoms including civil society and the media” before the release of certain assistance to Egypt. At a congressional hearing in March, Secretary Kerry expressed hope to make “the appropriate decision” on restarting aid in the “coming days.”
Human Rights Watch detailed the widespread deterioration in freedom of speech, assembly, and the press, in addition to the campaign against Muslim Brotherhood supporters. The military-backed government has broadened its net to include secular activists, dissident academics, and members of the media. The government has not provided any meaningful accountability for the killings of protesters or the excessive use of force by security forces.
Secretary Kerry should consider specific steps that Egypt should take to demonstrate meaningful effort to develop basic freedoms, Human Rights Watch said. That includes releasing political dissidents, amending the restrictive public assembly law it passed in November 2013, and initiating criminal investigations into the unlawful use of lethal force and abuse of detainees by security officials.
“Minor gestures, such as releasing a few high-profile detainees, that don’t address the overwhelming reality of political repression in Egypt would only be cosmetic,” Whitson said. “Any certification that Egypt is on the road to democratic transition will ring hollow while thousands of opposition activists remain locked up and the pervasive culture of impunity for serious abuses persists.”