The Cairo Criminal Court held a session Sunday to look into freezing the assets of several human rights workers in the “NGOs’ foreign funding” case. The court scheduled the next hearing session for 15 August.
The human rights workers include lawyers Gamal Eid of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) and Hossam Bahgat, founder of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR). According to a previous statement by Eid, the lawsuit submitted to freeze their assets accused them of receiving illegal foreign funding without providing any documentation as evidence of this.
At least 13 local organisations released a statement ahead of the court session in defence of civil society workers and particularly human rights advocates. The statement demanded an end to the oppression of civil society workers, who expose state violations against human rights, and the issuing of a law settling the work of NGOs in Egypt and their right to funding.
“Egypt’s regimes never welcomed the work of independent civil society, especially in the human rights field, seeking to restrict it through legislations that tie down freedoms and allow more security interferences,” read the statement.
“Yet, the recent wave of attacks on civil society is considered to be the worst as it is an actual and complete suppression of the public sphere,” added the statement, signed by political parties such as the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, the Socialist Popular Alliance, Al-Dostour, the Bread and Freedom, and the Popular Current, as well as NGOs like the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR), the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF) and Al-Haqanya law centre.
Among the examples of crackdowns on civil society, the statement referred to the attempt to close down El Nadeem Centre for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, the repeated summoning of two judges alongside human rights lawyer and director of the United Group law firm (UG law) Negad El-Borai, the re-opening of the 2011 NGOs’ foreign funding case, and the investigations conducted with the head and employers of Nazra for Feminist Studies, as well as others such as from ANHRI.
El-Borai was also accused of illegally receiving foreign funds, after he had explained that the state monitors and allows NGOs’ funds. “Money laundering authorities are monitoring every pound. This financial assistance is also included in the annual budget presented to tax authorities,” he stated in a previous interview with Daily News Egypt.
His case is an example illustrating the claims mentioned in the organisations’ statement that the state aims to target specific civil society organisations by obstructing the funding of politically non-approved NGOs.
Moreover, in the repercussions of the ongoing foreign funding case, the state has taken measures against civil society workers which the statement described as arbitrary, namely travel bans. Those ban orders are widely applied and do not follow specific procedures of prior notification, other than the banned persons being prevented from leaving Cairo International airport.
Interestingly, the bans reached members of the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR), which, though an independent institution, is funded by the state.
Last Thursday, NCHR’s prominent member Nasser Amin was barred from leaving to Lebanon. Such restrictions are related to the nature of activities that civil society members are due to engage in during their travels. In most cases, the reason of travel was to participate in conferences and workshops related to their field work.
The statement condemned the state’s refusal to allow proper governmental and non-governmental human rights mechanisms, while violations of human rights increase, and rights’ defenders are discredited and accused of plotting against the state’s interests.
“If [state authorities] succeed in eliminating us, their [next] goal will definitely be targeting the closure of all social media platforms, ie the last option left for us to speak up. If they do manage to close it, everything will be over and nothing will remain for us,” Bahgat told Daily News Egypt in an interview in April.