A Cairo court for minor offences convicted Hisham Geneina of disseminating false information and gave him a suspended one-year sentence on July 28, 2016. Geneina is appealing the verdict but had to pay a fine of 20,000 Egyptian pounds (US$2,252) and 10,000 (US$1,126) for bail. Geneina’s defence said that the charges against him were based on a misquoted statement to the media about the cost of corruption.
“The abuse of free speech in Egypt has heightened to the point of turning a misunderstanding into criminal charges punishable by prison,” said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East and North Africa director. “This escalation can have a dangerous chilling effect, especially on officials responsible for reporting corruption.”
General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi set a precedent by removing Geneina as head of the Central Auditing Organisation, a key financial watchdog, in March, after Geneina made several statements to the media asserting that state institutions and prosecutors were ignoring or stymying action on his reports of corruption. Geneina was the only remaining senior official from the administration of President Mohamed Morsi.
Geneina has repeatedly alleged endemic government corruption and said that the country’s prosecutor general was not investigating many of his hundreds of corruption reports, including against the Interior Ministry.
On March 28, al-Sisi fired Geneina. Geneina’s lawyers in turn filed a suit at the Administrative Court to contest his dismissal, saying it was unconstitutional and unlawful. On June 2, the Supreme State Security Prosecution referred Geneina to trial before the New Cairo Minor Offences Court on charges of disseminating false news that harmed the national interest. Geneina called the case retaliation for speaking out and challenging his dismissal.
Geneina was sentenced to one year in prison by the Cairo Misdemeanour Court in late July on charges of spreading false news about corruption rates in Egypt.
The charges against Geneina violate international human rights laws that protect free speech. Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Egypt is a party, guarantees freedom of expression and opinion. Limitations are only permissible when they are stated clearly by law and necessary for the protection of the rights or reputation of others, or the protection of national security, public order, public health or morals.
The firing and prosecution of Geneina raise concerns about government attempts to undermine the independence and efficacy of anti-corruption bodies. The Egyptian government should uphold its obligation to foster the autonomy of investigating authorities under its 2005 ratification of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption.
As the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights asserts, “corruption is an enormous obstacle to the realisation of all human rights – civil, political, economic, social and cultural, as well as the right to development.”
“If al-Sisi is serious about fighting corruption within Egypt, as he has said time and again, he should empower the regulatory agencies charged with investigating graft instead of single-handedly weakening the autonomy they depend on,” said HRW deputy Middle East and North Africa director Nadim Houry. “Protecting the independence of anti-corruption organisations and their officials [in turn] protects the freedoms and rights of Egyptians,” he added.
Source: Human Rights Watch