Seventeen rights organisations issued a joint statement on Monday condemning the reopening the case 173/2011, publicly known as the foreign funding case, referring to it as an “orchestrated, escalating assault” on civil society in Egypt.
The rights organisations include the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR), El Nadeem Centre for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture and Nazra for Feminist Studies.
The groups condemned recent move, targeting advocacy groups in particular, as well as the deployment the judiciary as a political and security weapon to achieve objectives that inflict “grave harm” to justice and human rights in the country.
Nazra is the latest rights organisation to be targeted by the new investigations in the case, as three of its workers received official summons to undergo an interrogation session on 22 March. No reasons were specified in the summons, according to the women’s rights organisation.
The foreign funding case dates back to December 2011, when prosecutors, backed by the police, stormed the offices of 17 local and international NGOs, including the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute, and Freedom House, as part of a probe into the NGOs’ allegedly illegal foreign funding.
Forty-three NGOs workers were put to trial, including 32 foreigners, and were convicted of unlicensed work and receiving illegal foreign funds. Twenty-seven defendants, all foreigners, were sentenced to five years imprisonment in absentia, while another five foreigners received two-year sentences in attendance, and 11 Egyptians received a one-year suspended sentence and a EGP 1,000 fine.
The reasons behind re-opening the case have yet to be announced. Last Wednesday saw the first action in the case for months, as investigating judges announced that workers and accountants of a number of NGOs that were mentioned in the original case would be interrogated.
“Over the past ten days, rights groups have been subjected to a security and media onslaught. This comes after a European Parliament resolution that criticized the state of human rights in Egypt and after rights groups sent a memo to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights addressing the same topic,” the statement read.
“The handpicked investigating judges in the foreign funding case took a series of measures against leaders and staff at a number of rights organizations,” the statement added, referring to travel bans and summoning of a number of human rights workers. Further, the statement reveals that the investigation committee refused to allow lawyers and their clients to view the case files or disclose the nature and details of the accusations.
“The timing of the attack on these organizations also suggests that the actions are punishment for the groups for engaging with a human rights instrument, the OHCHR, and meeting with the high commissioner and the UN secretary-general,” the statement continued.
“Instead of silencing and repressing victims’ voices with flawed legal procedures, the government would do better to realize the serious shortcomings in the management of the country and initiate reforms. It is the lawlessness of the security apparatus that “besmirches Egypt’s international reputation.”