EGYPT: Jehovah’s Witnesses banned since 1960 defend their case at the UN
Text of their submission
HRWF/ AAJW & EAJW (12.01.2022) – 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) filed a joint submission about the situation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Egypt.
- The Christian community of Jehovah’s Witnesses has been present in Egypt since 1912. They obtained official registration in 1951 but were arbitrarily deregistered in 1960.
- The campaign of misrepresentation and false accusations that led to the banning of the Christian community of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Egypt continues to keep these law-abiding citizens from enjoying the fundamental freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution of Egypt and in human rights instruments, including the Covenant, which was ratified by Egypt on 14 January 1982. Although more than 60 years have passed, officials continue to deny the Christian community of Jehovah’s Witnesses the opportunity to meet with key authorities in order to resolve the situation.
II. Violations of the provisions of THE COVENANT
- Loss of Religious Recognition and Denial of Re-registration (articles 18, 21, 22, 26 and 27)
- In the 1930s, congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses were established 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. The pretext for the ban was an alleged failure to re-register according to Law 384 of 1956. All the property owned by Witness entities was confiscated. Efforts to re-register were rejected for “security reasons”.
- The campaign of anti-Witness articles in the Egyptian press increased, with articles becoming more numerous and increasingly defamatory. The inaccurate portrayal of Jehovah’s Witnesses as Zionists caused them to be viewed as a security threat. The Boycott Office of the League of Arab Nations handed down a decree on 12 May 1964, stating that Arab nations would “ban absolutely all dealings with said society [Jehovah’s Witnesses], along with all its branches and offices wherever these may be found, including the ensuing closure of its branches and offices in Arab States, and prohibiting the bringing in, and circulation/distribution of its publications and printed material”.
- For many decades Jehovah’s Witnesses have been consistently taking a religious stance establishing that they are not Zionists. The organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses is entirely religious and does not advocate any political arrangement, which would include Zionism. The political neutrality of Jehovah’s Witnesses has been well documented, and in some lands the Witnesses have suffered severe persecution rather than compromise that neutrality. These views are reiterated today at greater length on the Witnesses’ official website and should ensure that there is no ambiguity about their position.
- 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 belonging to the Watch Tower Society or to other entities of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
- A 1985 decree of the Ministry of Justice (Administrative Law No. 9) prevents Jehovah’s Witnesses from officially registering both property ownership and marriages. On 23 March 2019, the High Administrative Court of Egypt rejected an appeal (No. 10698) to reverse this decree. This court also refused to refer the case to the Supreme Constitutional Court of Egypt for judgment. The court claimed that the beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses contradict public order and morals in the country of Egypt.
- As a result, property cannot be bought or owned in the name of any organized group of Jehovah’s Witnesses. As an organization, Jehovah’s Witnesses cannot even obtain land to bury their dead but must use privately owned cemeteries.
- The misunderstanding or misrepresentation that led to the ban in 1960 continues to keep honest, law-abiding citizens who are Jehovah’s Witnesses from enjoying the fundamental freedoms guaranteed in their Constitution and in human rights instruments ratified by Egypt, including the Covenant. More than 60 years later, Jehovah’s Witnesses have still not been permitted to clarify their position by meeting with the highest authorities in the country.
- Currently, the National Security Agency (NS) unlawfully interrogates and verbally harasses Witnesses on a monthly basis, summoning them without official authorization on the pretext of protecting national interests.
- Restrictions on Places of Worship and on Manifestation of Belief (articles 18, 21, 22, 26 and 27)
- The NS continues to search for and threaten 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 the Witnesses and often threaten them with arrest in order to obtain information both about fellow believers in Egypt and about how the Witnesses are organized. By way of example:
- 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 peaceful religious activities.
- Owing to the now over 60-year ban, Jehovah’s Witnesses cannot build or own places of worship. Consequently, they are obliged to hold their peaceful 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.
- On 29 February 2020, two female Jehovah’s Witnesses spoke about their faith to a Christian woman at a food court in Cairo. After the conversation ended, a member of the mall staff and a security officer approached the woman and interrogated her about the conversation. The two Witnesses were able to leave the area before they could be questioned.
- On 28 March 2020, an NS agent visited a Witness family in central Cairo to interrogate them about meetings held in their home.
- 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 NS 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 NS a copy of the contract. NS 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.
- 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.” (P9_TA-PROV (2019)0043)
- During 2021, owing to Covid-19 precautions, all of Jehovah’s Witnesses religious meetings have been held via videoconference. The NS 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.
III. CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS
- Jehovah’s Witnesses in Egypt and as a worldwide organization express concern for the government’s refusal to recognize Jehovah’s Witnesses as a Christian religion, its over 60-year denial of re-registration and its restrictions on places of worship and manifestation of peaceful religious beliefs. They respectfully request the Government of Egypt to take the necessary steps to:
- Ensure that Jehovah’s Witnesses are able to register their local religious organizations.
- End the continuous and intrusive surveillance and interrogations of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
- Allow Egyptian and foreign Jehovah’s Witnesses to worship peacefully and to associate with one another.
- 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.
- Abide by its commitment to uphold the fundamental freedoms guaranteed by the Covenant for all citizens, including Jehovah’s Witnesses.
- AAJW and EAJW will consider submitting an additional complementary submission with the CCPR after the list of issues has been adopted.
Photo : istockphoto.com
 “Are Jehovah’s Witnesses Zionists?” Available at https://www.jw.org/en/jehovahs-witnesses/faq/beliefs-about-zionism/; Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, “Does Bible Prophecy Point to the Modern State of Israel?” Available at https://www.jw.org/en/library/magazines/wp20101101/bible-prophecy-modern-state-israel/.