HRW criticizes Sisi government for prosecution of ousted corruption watchdog

Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report on Tuesday criticizing Egypt’s prosecution of former head of the Central Auditing Authority, Hesham Geneina, and calling on the government to drop the case.

The report argued that the case against Geneina violates the right to free speech and thwarts efforts to tackle 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 of Human Rights Watch (HRW). “This escalation can have a dangerous chilling effect, especially on officials responsible for reporting corruption.”

The charges against Geneina stem from a report published in Youm7 in December last year, in which he was quoted saying that corruption had cost Egypt more than LE600 billion in 2015 alone. Geneina, who says he was misquoted, and is currently suing the paper, later stated that the figure represented the amount lost as a result of corruption between 2012-2015. He also released a report to back up his assertions about widespread corruption.

A committee was later formed to investigate his accusations, which concluded that he had defamed the state. In May, Geneina was fired, and convicted at the end of July of disseminating false news. He was subsequently given a one-year suspended sentence and is appealing the verdict, although he also had to pay a fine of LE20,000 and bail of LE10,000. Another lawsuit has been launched by his legal team contesting his dismissal, which has been adjourned until September.

HRW’s report states that the case against Geneina violates international laws that protect free speech, specifically the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Egypt is a signatory, which guarantees freedom of expression and opinion.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has repeatedly said tackling corruption is one of his key priorities, but the report goes on to question the government’s commitment to doing so in practice. It refers to a decree made last year by Sisi before the formation of parliament, which allows the president to dismiss the heads of government bodies, like Geneina, before they have completed their full terms if they pose a threat to national security, fail to perform their duties, or lose the confidence of the public.

“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.”

The report also cites independent statistics from Transparency International, which ranks Egypt 88 out of 168 countries in terms of corruption, and claimed bribery is widespread in Egypt and the MENA region.

Geneina’s legal troubles come at a time when Egypt’s government is increasingly hostile to dissent, especially within its own ranks. Speaker of the house Ali Abdel Aal has repeatedly implored parliament to act in accordancewith the government and has previously threatened members with disciplinary action if they dared criticize Egypt’s fiscal policies.

Geneina’s own daughter, Shorouk Geneina, was also fired by presidential decree from her position as a lawyer for the state prosecution, after posting a satirical cartoon depicting former justice minister Ahmed Zend, a move that even pro-government supporters have deemed unfair and politically motivated.

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