Friday,17 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1284, (25 February - 2 March 2016))
Friday,17 August, 2018
Issue 1284, (25 February - 2 March 2016))

Ahram Weekly

Working despite closure order

The founders of Al-Nadeem Centre for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence say they will continue issuing reports on the authorities’ use of torture despite attempts to close down the NGO, reports Khaled Dawoud

Al-Ahram Weekly

Aida Seif Al-Dawla, Suzan Fayad, Magda Adli and Mona Hamed are four doctors who have been running Al-Nadeem Centre for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence since 1993. On Sunday, they were given a hero’s welcome at the Press Syndicate where they convened a press conference to respond to Cairo Governorate’s decision to close them down.

The four women are pioneers, not just in terms of the services they provide to victims of torture in Egypt, but for the leading roles they have played in promoting human rights in Egypt.

Al-Nadeem operates a clinic that provides psychological support to patients who have suffered torture or violence, and compiles a monthly report listing incidents of torture, disappearances and death inside places of detention.

The sudden decision to close down Al-Nadeem sent shockwaves throughout Egypt’s human rights community. NGOs that, like Al-Nadeem, have been critical of the government’s deteriorating human rights fear they will be next.

Soon after Al-Nadeem began providing psychological services to victims of torture, said Fayad, they realized it was not enough. The prevalence of torture must also be brought to the public’s attention to combat the practice.

“Rebuking the criminals involved in torture publicly could even form part of the treatment for their victims of torture who might feel at least a part of their dignity had been restored,” she said. “Part of the process of rehabilitation includes empowerment and seeing those who tortured them having to pay for their crimes can help the process.”

Al-Nadeem’s reputation — it is widely viewed as providing the most credible data related to torture and others forms of abuse inside prisons — did not prevent the Health Ministry from ordering its closure. On 17 February, employees from the Azbakiya Health Department arrived at Al-Nadeem’s Downtown offices without prior notice and said they had an order to shut down the centere.

Hamed, who was in the office at the time, was handed a short memo saying that Al-Nadeem had violated the conditions of its licence as a clinic providing patients with psychological support.

Taher Abul-Nasr, the centre’s lawyer, negotiated with the Health Department officials who agreed to postpone enforcing the closure order until the centre could appeal the decision.

“They agreed to postpone closing down the centre and said they would return on Monday 22 February,” Abul-Nasr told Al-Ahram Weekly. As the Weekly went to press on Wednesday, there had been no second attempt to close down Al-Nadeem’s operations.

“This could happen at any time, perhaps even after working hours should they want to avoid any media coverage,” said Abul-Nasr. In similar cases, employees of an organization targeted for closure have turned up to work only to find their office’s doors sealed with red wax. Breaking the seal without a court order is a criminal offence.

Seif Al-Dawla says it is unlikely that the decision to close down Al-Nadeem was taken by the Azbakiya Health Department.

“I would assume that the cabinet — the ministers of interior, social justice and the prime minister himself — took the decision to close down Al-Nadeem. This was a political decision,” she told reporters at the Press Syndicate.

“We are being closed down because we highlight death, oppression and torture inside Egyptian prisons. This is the real reason. Other NGOs that dare to speak out will be next,” she warned.

Adli said that she was not surprised by the closure order. The decision, she said, was “part of a wider crackdown on all organizations involved in voluntary activities”.

She continued, “The security agencies believe these organisations played a vital role in preparing the ground for the 25 January 2011 Revolution.”

Adli said that one catalyst of the popular revolution that ended with the removal of former president Hosni Mubarak was the extent of police brutality against ordinary citizens.

She believes the decision to close down Al-Nadeem is part of a wider assault on human rights in Egypt.

“Public anger when a policeman shot dead a driver in Al-Darb Al-Ahmar last week, and similar incidents in Luxor and Ismailiya, when members of the public were killed by police, the decision to close down Al-Nadeem, they are all connected. They show that the rule of law in Egypt is being put on hold,” said Seif Al-Dawla during the press conference.

Few observers accept the official reasons for the closure, that Al-Nadeem violated the terms of its licence. The security agencies wanted Al-Nadeem closed because of its monthly reports on incidents of torture and other human rights violations carried out by the police.

“It is our reports that made them angry,” said Seif Al-Dawla. “But closing us down will not stop our reports. We do not need an office to issue them.”

Her advice to the Interior Ministry was simple: “You want us to stop issuing our reports, then stop torture inside prisons.”

Hamed and her partners are upset they have been forced to halt treatment for dozens of patients because of the closure order. “These patients need continuous care, and this is not something we can provide at the moment,” she said.

Abul-Nasr told the Weekly that Al-Nadeem has halted it support programme out of fear that vulnerable patients might be on the premises when police come to close down the offices.

In addition to negotiating with the local authorities in Azabkiya municipality, Abul-Nasr has filed a case against the governor of Cairo and the minister of health, appealing the decision to close down Al-Nadeem.

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