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Wednesday, May 25, 2022

EGYPT: Jehovah’s Witnesses banned since 1960 call upon the UN Human Rights Committee

Willy Fautre
Willy Fautrehttps://www.hrwf.eu
Willy Fautré, former chargé de mission at the Cabinet of the Belgian Ministry of Education and at the Belgian Parliament. He is the director of Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF), an NGO based in Brussels that he founded in December 1988. His organization defends human rights in general with a special focus on ethnic and religious minorities, freedom of expression, women’s rights and LGBT people. HRWF is independent from any political movement and any religion. Fautré has carried out fact-finding missions on human rights in more than 25 countries, including in perilous regions such as in Iraq, in Sandinist Nicaragua or in Maoist held territories of Nepal. He is a lecturer in universities in the field of human rights. He has published many articles in university journals about relations between state and religions. He is a member of the Press Club in Brussels. He is a human rights advocate at the UN, the European Parliament and the OSCE.

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On the occasion of the upcoming 134th session of the UN Human Rights Committee (28 February – 25 March 2022), the African Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses (AAJW) and the European Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses (EAJW) have filed a joint submission about the situation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Egypt banned since 1960.

They request the Government of Egypt to take the necessary steps to:

  • 1. Ensure that Jehovah’s Witnesses are able to register their local religious organizations
  • 2. End the continuous and intrusive surveillance and interrogations of Jehovah’s Witnesses
  • 3. Allow Egyptian and foreign Jehovah’s Witnesses to worship peacefully and to associate with one another;
  • 4. Cancel the directives of the Administration of Land Registration and Documentation of the Ministry of Justice in Egypt that prohibit its agencies from registering title to property belonging to legal entities of Jehovah’s Witnesses;
  • 5. Abide by its commitment to uphold the fundamental freedoms guaranteed by the Covenant for all citizens, including Jehovah’s Witnesses.
  • Religious freedom violations

    A decree of the Ministry of Social Affairs dated 20 June 1960 deregistered the local branch of the Watch Tower Society and effectively banned the activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The pretext for the ban was an alleged failure to re-register according to Law 384 of 1956. Efforts to re-register were rejected for “security reasons.” All the property owned by Witness entities were confiscated.

    For over 60 years, Jehovah’s Witnesses have not been allowed to build or own places of worship. Consequently, they are obliged to hold their religious meetings discreetly, in private homes. Many Witnesses report continued surveillance of their telephone conversations, their homes and their meeting locations. Additionally, the Witnesses are not permitted to import their religious literature or to manifest their religious beliefs by peacefully sharing a Bible message with persons who wish to receive it.

  • In February 2020, an Egyptian Witness who owns an apartment arranged for it to be completely renovated so as to be suitable for religious meetings and rented it to fellow worshippers. Since Witnesses cannot obtain a zoning permit to use property for their religious meetings, the NSA repeatedly attempted to obtain a copy of the rental contract in order to file charges against the Witnesses involved. Despite repeated telephone calls and threats, the Witnesses refused to give the NSA a copy of the contract. Their agents then interrogated and harassed the Witness landlord and ordered that the apartment be emptied and closed immediately. Subsequently, Jehovah’s Witnesses have not been able to use the property.
  • On 28 March 2020, a National Security (NSA) agent visited a Witness family in central Cairo to interrogate them about meetings held in their home.
  • The NSA searches for and threatens Jehovah’s Witnesses who are foreign nationals, especially those believed to be “leading ministers” and those associating with Egyptian Witnesses. During interrogations, agents try to intimidate them and often threaten them with arrest in order to obtain information both about fellow believers in Egypt and about how they are organized. A few examples:

  • March 2020: NS agents forcefully entered the homes of at least two Egyptian Witnesses, without a warrant or consent, in order to interrogate them about a married Witness couple who were foreign nationals lawfully resident in Egypt. Because of the threat of arrest and deportation, the couple fled Egypt and returned to the United States.
  • April/May 2020: NS agents interrogated two Sudanese Witnesses about their religious activities
  • The above incidents have occurred since the European Parliament’s adoption of the 24 October 2019 Resolution on Egypt, which “stresses the importance of guaranteeing the equality of all Egyptians, regardless of their faith or belief; calls for Egypt to review its blasphemy laws in order to ensure the protection of religious minorities … calls on the Egyptian authorities, including the military and security forces, to respect the rights of Christians, protect them against violence and discrimination and ensure that those responsible for such acts are prosecuted.”

    During 2021, owing to Covid-19 precautions, all of Jehovah’s Witnesses religious meetings have been held via videoconference. The NSA has strenuously investigated who holds licences for a proprietary videoconferencing system, how meeting details are distributed, who the hosts are, the names of the attendees, etc. Such details constituted part of the information sought during interrogations of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

    Background

    Jehovah’s Witnesses have been present in Egypt since 1912. In the 1930s, they established congregations in Alexandria and in Cairo. By the post-war years of 1945–1950, there were already a significant number of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Egypt.

    Well into the 1950s, Egyptian Jehovah’s Witnesses enjoyed relative freedom of worship. On 3 November 1951, the Cairo Governorate granted recognition to a branch of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania (Watch Tower Society), a legal corporation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. In 1956, the Governorate of Alexandria granted similar recognition to the local congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

    In 1959, a campaign of false accusations labelling Jehovah’s Witnesses as “Zionists” caused the police to order the Witnesses to cease holding their religious services.

    On 20 June 1960, a decree of the Ministry of Social Affairs deregistered the local branch of the Watch Tower Society and effectively banned the activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses in all Egypt.

    Later on, the Administration of Land Registration and Documentation of the Ministry of Justice in Egypt issued three directives (in 1985, 1993 and 1999) that prohibit its agencies from registering any property as well as marriages.

    As a result, property cannot be bought or owned in the name of any organized group of Jehovah’s Witnesses. They cannot even obtain land to bury their dead but must use privately owned cemeteries.

    Although more than 60 years have passed, officials continue to deny them the opportunity to meet with key authorities in order to resolve the situation.

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