UN rights body warns of dwindling freedom of speech in Egypt

GENEVA: The UN human rights body on Friday warned that the space for freedom of expression was shrinking in Egypt, pointing to two cases where civil society and activists were taken to task for speaking out.

“We have been closely following events in Egypt since the ousting of former president Mubarak and are concerned about what appears to be a diminishing public space for freedom of expression and association,” said Rupert Colville, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. “The military trial and jailing of blogger and activist Alaa Abdel Fatah, after his criticism of security forces handling of protests last month, is one such example of an egregious breach of the right to freedom of expression,” he added.

The blogger was remanded and accused of inciting violence during the October 9 demonstration by Coptic Christians in Egypt capital. Activists said the young man was detained as he refused to undergo questioning by the military prosecution on the grounds that the military itself was implicated in the case. Colville also noted that a restrictive law has been evoked to investigate human rights groups and their funding sources.

“Civil society organisations and human rights activists, whose courage and non-violent protest brought about the change of regime in Egypt, must be guaranteed space for open debate, even if it means that the interim authorities are harshly criticised in public fora,” he said. “To this end, we call for the release of Alaa Abdel Fateh and all others who have been imprisoned for exercising their fundamental rights to free speech and association,” added the spokesman.