Egypt amends penal code regulating foreign funding

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President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi approved on 21 September amendments to Egypt’s penal code regulating foreign funding. The amendments stipulate harsher penalties against those accused of receiving funds with the aim of harming national interests and security.

Article 78, published in the country’s Official Gazette, now details that whoever receives foreign or local funding, monetary or logistically, in ways that aim to harm the country’s interests, security, or dependence, “shall be punished by life imprisonment and a fine no less than LE500,000 and no more than what he has been given or promised.”

The additions also include that if the offender is a governmental employee, they shall receive a death sentence. The previous law had stipulated a fine of “not less than LE1,000 and temporary hard labour.”

The new text regulates those who receive foreign funding “for himself, or for others, or accepts, or takes, through a foreign state intermediary, or those who work for its interests, or a legal person, or a local or an international organisation, or any other entity that is not affiliated with a foreign state and does not work for its interest, cash, or transferred money, or equipment, or machines, or weapons, or ammunition, or items like it or other things, or was promised of any of that, with the intention of committing acts harmful to national interest, or acts like it, or acts that breach the country’s independence, or unity, or territorial integrity, or committing attacks that disrupt public security and peace, shall be punished…”

According the cabinet’s explanatory memorandum that accompanied the law, the aim of the amendment is to curb the funding of terrorist organisations.

However, local non-governmental organisations (NGO) as well as journalists have raised concerns that the law may be “too vague”, fearing it could be misused by state officials and the judiciary to infringe on press freedom and human rights activities with the pretext of protecting national security.

Speaking to The Guardian, executive director of the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, Mohamed Lotfy, said that “if implemented, the broad scope of the article could easily be misused by prosecutors and police to arrest human rights defenders, on the basis that their work harms national interest.”

“Making a film about poverty or writing a report about a protest or attacks on Copts or human rights abuses in Sinai could be deemed harmful to national unity,” he added.

Since 2002, NGOs in Egypt have been regulated by a law that gives the government the right to oversee the funding and logistics of each project that an NGO carries out, and to veto when deemed necessary.

In June 2013, 43 employees of foreign NGOs, of different nationalities, were tried, over half in absentia, and given prison sentences for “running unlicensed organisations, receiving foreign money and conducting political training without permits.”