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:
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.
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:
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.
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.