Egypt: Rights defender Zaree affirms it is violations of human rights–not their defense–that imperil national security
Zaree denies charges of harming national security and appeals the investigative judge’s appointment in case no. 173/2011
Rights activist Mohamed Zaree, the director of the Egypt program at the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), was released today on a bail of LE30,000 after being interrogated by judge Hisham Abd al-Megid; as part of the ongoing prosecution of Case no. 173/2011, known as the Foreign Funding Case against NGOs. Zaree, who was recently nominated for the prestigious Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, has now been interrogated twice in connection with the case and faces life imprisonment for his human rights advocacy.
The judge questioned Zaree on charges of receiving, with others, foreign funds for an unregistered entity (CIHRS) and using them for unlawful activities with the intent of harming national security and interests. As a likely governmental reprisal for cooperating with the United Nations in regards to upholding Egypt’s international rights obligations, Zaree was also accused of intending to harm Egypt’s reputation through his role in preparing the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) UPR reports. It should be recalled here that the Egyptian government accepted the recommendations following its UPR at the HRC in 2015.
In his statements during the interrogation, Zaree asserted that the defense of human rights does not undermine the nation’s interests; on the contrary, it is the violation of human rights and freedoms that represents the most genuine peril to Egypt’s national security and interests. He affirmed that the funds in question were all used to support a culture of human rights and defend against the repeated attacks on Egyptian rights activists.
Zaree appealed the appointment of the investigative judge as invalid; in contravention of Article 66 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which states, “The investigative judge assigned pursuant to the provisions of Articles 64 and 65 of this decretal law must complete the investigation within no more than six months from the time he begins it, barring some exigent circumstance necessary for the investigation. If such circumstance exists, he must apply to the general assembly or the body authorized to issue the appointment decree for an extension of no more than six months. If there is no such circumstance or the assigned investigative judge contravenes the procedures for bringing the case pursuant to the provisions of the foregoing paragraph, the general assembly or its authorized deputy shall appoint another judge to complete the investigation.”
This statute is unambiguous and not open to interpretation. Under no circumstances may the same judge continue to investigate the same case for a period of nearly three years (the investigative judge was appointed in December 2014). Moreover, there is no indication in the case files that the investigative judge claimed any exigent circumstance to justify his re-assignment not once, but up to five times, in violation of the law. CIHRS believes Megid’s repeated appointment throughout a period of nearly three years connotes that his appointment is politically motivated, with the intent of guaranteeing the issuance of a pre-determined sentence favorable to the government.
This led Zaree, along with CIHRS director Bahey eldin Hassan and other rights defenders investigated in connection with the case, to file a motion with the president of the Cairo Appellate Court two days ago, on Monday, May 22. The motion seeks to obtain the following documentation: a copy of the decree assigning Judge Hisham Abd al-Megid to the case; a copy of the decrees extending his assignment, inclusive of the date of the extension and grounds for it; a copy of the decrees of the general assembly extending his assignment; and a copy of any memorandums or briefs submitted by Judge Abd al-Megid stating the reasons for his inability to conclude the investigation and to request an extension of his assignment.
In this context, a report based on the investigative judge’s statements to al-Ahram al-Mesai on March 20, 2016, should be noted. The article reported, “Throughout the duration of the investigation, which has lasted one and a half years, he has heard statements from 200 witnesses in the case revealing details of the operation of civil society organizations, the laws regulating their operation, and how several associations have violated and evaded the law to achieve financial gain for their members.”
There are three elements of this excerpt from the report that must be emphasized; the first refers to the duration of the investigation. If Judge Hisham Abd al-Megid was pursuing the investigation of this case for 18 months prior to the date of the report (that is, March 2016), this denotes that currently he has been on assignment for over two and a half years, in egregious violation of Egyptian law. Secondly, the report states that there were at least 200 witness statements; the defendants do not know the identity of these witnesses and against whom they testified!
And finally, the report refers to the bill of indictment, which alleges that the state has seen, and perhaps obtained, documents proving fraud, tax evasion, correspondence with foreign bodies, and secret meetings. Although these charges and references to the ostensible evidence ‘proving’ the charges are regularly paraded in the regime-friendly media’s character assassinations of the defendants – as attacks upon their integrity and patriotism; the defendants themselves have not yet been granted their right to view the evidence ‘proving’ the allegations against them.
Egyptian media, having willingly abandoned its professionalism and impartiality, has become an arm of the security apparatus in its campaign to extinguish the Egyptian human rights movement. As such, it has no qualms about smearing and libeling organizations that have sustained losses in order to defend rights and freedoms, starting with the freedom of opinion and expression, and the independence of the media. If the media, with its vicious campaign against independent organizations, has abandoned its role as a partner to civil society in the defense of liberties, rights organizations will not do the same, regardless of the pressure and reprisals they endure. The national security and interests of Egypt are contingent upon the defense of fundamental human rights and liberties; a defense so eloquently represented again by Mohammed Zaree during his interrogation today.
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