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Why did Egypt really close Al-Nadeem victims' center?

Egyptian security forces shut down Al-Nadeem Center on charges that it breached licensing laws, but representatives of the rehabilitation center say politics are involved.
Egyptian members of security forces stand guard during the sixth anniversary of the 2011 uprising, at Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, January 25, 2017. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany - RTSXB7U

CAIRO — Egyptian authorities say they recently closed a Cairo nongovernmental organization because it violated the law, but leaders of Al-Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture beg to differ.

Egyptian security forces shut down the center Feb. 9 based on a Ministry of Health and Population order that said the center violated licensing conditions. The dispute seems to involve the center's mission. The government said the center is supposed to focus on medical treatments but has branched out into monitoring human rights abuses.

Al-Nadeem Center officials say it was founded in 1993 to document human rights abuses, rehabilitate torture victims, provide psychological counseling to victims of violence and look into torture complaints. They say the closing is political and an attempt to silence reports of abuses. The day Al-Nadeem Center closed, it issued a report indicating it had monitored “535 individual torture cases, 307 collective torture or maltreatment cases, 472 cases of medical neglect in detention centers and 123 deaths in detention centers" in 2016.

This is not the first time the government has obstructed the center's work. A year ago, security forces shut down the center’s clinic also for allegedly violating licensing conditions.

“That attempt to close the center [also] was not linked to technical or legal reasons; rather, the decision was political," center worker Susan Fayyad said. "This is because Al-Nadeem Center often reports on violations carried out by the Interior Ministry against prisoners and detainees, which may draw harsh criticism against the security apparatus.” The center's further investigation into the matter backs up that statement, according to center director Magda Adly.

Adly told Al-Monitor that following last year's attempted closure, center representatives visited the Ministry of Health and Population to inquire about the reason. "We learned that the decision was issued at the government's request after the center issued reports condemning Interior Ministry violations,” she said.

However, Khalid Mujahid, Ministry of Health and Population spokesman, said in a statement on Feb. 24, 2016, that “the clinic committed two violations, the first being changing its name from clinic to center, although a different license is required for each, and the second, changing its activities from medical practice to human rights advocacy." 

Mujahid added that the center’s clinic received a warning and a deadline to adjust its status, but the deadline expired without any rectification. “If the center desires to register itself as a human rights organization, it should go through the legal proceedings designated for such organizations without circumventing the law, as was the case.”

The Ministry of Social Solidarity licenses NGOs, but Al-Nadeem’s clinic — as opposed to the center itself — said last year that it was registered through the Ministry of Health and Population and does not need to register as an NGO. Al-Nadeem Center issued a statement saying the clinic is responsible for the medical rehabilitation of the victims of violence and torture, while the center is responsible for the issuance of statements and reports that are related to human rights — and the clinic has nothing to do with those responsibilities.

The center continued its battle throughout February 2016. It sent a letter to the Ministry of Health and Population and asked it to withdraw the decision to close the clinic — to no avail. It filed a lawsuit with the State Council to appeal the decision, and the case was referred to the State Commissioners Authority to issue a report in this regard. The report has yet to be issued. On Feb. 25, 2016, Al-Nadeem Center said in a statement that it was established as an NGO, that it was documented and that it is not subject to regulation by the Ministry of Health and Population.

However, the center did open the clinic under the name “Treatment and Psychological Rehabilitation Program,” and the clinic is subject to the supervision of the Ministry of Health and Population. Al-Nadeem pointed out that the clinic had obtained a license from the Medical Association and a license to run as a medical facility from the Ministry of Health and Population.

Despite the government's persistent efforts, the clinic was able to reopen because, center worker Susan Fayyad told Al-Monitor recently, media coverage drew unwanted attention to the closing.

In April, the government was back. An official from the Health Ministry's licensing administration visited the center along with three security officials. According to Adly, they reported no violations, which she said proves this month's closing is political and has nothing to do with the Health Ministry's statements about the center's change in activities, which she called "funny allegations."

But the government pursued further measures in November. 

On Nov. 10, Egyptian authorities ordered Credit Agricole Bank to freeze the center's account until its legal status complied with the country's NGO law. On Nov. 16, the freeze was lifted after, the center said, it proved it was not subject to that NGO law.

On Nov. 29, parliament passed a new law regulating NGOs. The law prohibits local and foreign groups from engaging in political activities or any activity deemed detrimental to the public order, morality or health, or national security. Human Rights Watch said the law would effectively ban what remained of the country’s independent civil society groups.

It remains to be seen how the new law will affect the center's efforts to reopen this time.

Adly said the government's 2016 closure effort applied to the clinic only. This time, however, all operations were closed "in clear violation of the law, so we filed a complaint in this regard with the public prosecutor."

In the meantime, the center’s doctors have agreed to continue providing psychological counseling by phone to torture victims. On the future of the center, Adly said, “We will continue to follow up on complaints of torture, and monitor and document what is published until the nation is cleansed from all forms of violence and discrimination."

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