Wi-Fi censors Human Rights Watch and News websites.
The 27th United Nations (UN) Climate Change Conference is off to a bad start. Two days in and the biggest news marking the event is not climate policy, but the oppression of protesters by the Egyptian Government and the on-site censorship of online platforms — including Medium. Officially called the Conference of Parties (COP), the UN Climate Change Conference is an annual summit taking place since 1995, which gathers world leaders, experts and activists from around the world to discuss the ongoing climate crisis.
This year, the 27th Conference (COP27) will took place in Egypt, between November 6th and November 18th — more specifically in the Red Sea resort town of Sharm El-Sheikh. And, as always, the summit will provide a platform for governments and organizations to announce new climate targets and initiatives.
However, the decision to host the event in Egypt — a country with limited freedom of speech — has been controversial, given that these conferences are also intended to serve as an opportunity for climate activists to make themselves heard.
Egypt is an autocratic regime with deeply restrictive laws on the right to assemble and protest. According to the Democracy Matrix Research Project led by the University of Würzburg, it ranks 154th out of 179 nations in the Democratic Index.
The country is “one of the world’s biggest prisons for journalists”, as stated in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) dedicated webpage, ranking 168th out of 180 nations in their World Press Freedom Index — with 19 journalists currently under custody.
The government’s human rights abuses have also been extensively decried by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW)— which have accused the state of arbitrary arrest of opposition politicians and extrajudicial executions of ISIS suspected militants. Egypt is additionally the nation with the third most recorded judicial executions in 2021.
So, it is not surprising that, in the weeks building up to the conference, the ability of activists to protest has been significantly impaired. As explained in a press conference, UN Human Rights Experts are alarmed by the restrictions imposed on civil society, including:
- The lack of information and transparent accreditation criteria for Egyptian NGOs
- A coordinated increase in hotel room rates
- Undue restrictions to freedom of peaceful assembly outside the COP27 venue
- Unjustified delays in the provision of visas to those traveling from abroad
The government has inclusively arrested dozens of people calling for protests, as reported by HRW, altogether leading to a climate which undermines the participation of environmental groups. This has prompted accusations by activist Greta Thunberg (who will not attend the event this year) that COP is only serving as a greenwashing strategy — again.
And it does not stop there.
On day two of the conference, the Guardian reported that attendees are faced with censored internet access, unable to visit websites including HRW, Egyptian independent news outlet Mada Masr, Qatari’s Al Jazeera and — as previously mentioned — Medium.
Ultimately, the decision to host the conference in Egypt has diverted attention away from climate commitments being made, such as the UN’s Global Warning System against extreme weather events.
However, it has brought focus to the notion that climate justice is also a matter of human rights, and pressure is mounting on the Egyptian government to act.
Especially regarding the release of political prisoners, with RSF and 15 Nobel laureates calling for the release of imprisoned democracy activist Alaa Abd el-Fattah — one of the leading voices in the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, who is currently on a hunger strike.
This article is also published on Medium. Future Thought Leaders is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of rising Energy & Sustainability writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.