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10 Nov 2022

Ruth Michaelson & Oliver Milman, The Guardian

COP27: Civil society groups report surveillance and intimidation

Alexandros Michailidis, Shutterstock

"Civil society groups report surveillance and intimidation at Cop27", 10 November 2022

Members of civil society attending Cop27 have described how surveillance and intimidation by the Egyptian authorities is threatening their participation in the climate conference. Problems reported by attenders include overt surveillance, control of their meetings by conference staff and problems with accommodation.

International civil society participants, all of whom requested anonymity for their protection, told the Guardian how uniformed or plainclothes conference staff supposedly on hand to provide security, technical, or cleaning assistance to delegates, seemed preoccupied with surveilling them and controlling their activities rather than providing support.

“Just talking about the word activism means you are very quickly surrounded by people eavesdropping on you,” said one. Conference staff, he said, repeatedly surrounded civil society delegates to create an atmosphere of discomfort if they mentioned the word activism in conversation, or tried to discuss it with colleagues...

For those who attended the conference, especially high-profile Egyptian activists, the surveillance was overt. One delegate provided a photo of a suspected plainclothes member of the Egyptian security services openly filming Sanaa Seif, the sister of jailed British-Egyptian hunger strike Alaa Abd el-Fattah, with his phone when she held a press conference at Cop27. Pro-government MP Amr Darwish attempted to disrupt Seif’s press conference.

A member of civil society from Egypt said the surveillance and intimidation was “signalling to everyone that we have to behave, or else. It’s really very hard,” he said. “Unlike other Cops, everyone seems to feel afraid due to this surveillance. There’s less activity, you don’t feel the spirit of the event, a push for climate activism and against the big polluters...