Tomorrow February 1, 2018, the Cassation Court will hold its first hearing on the appeal in Case no. 173 of 2011, known as the Foreign Funding Case against human rights organizations. The appeal was filed by staff from international civil society organizations who, along with others, were given suspended prison terms on June 4, 2013 in connection with the first part of the case. If the appeal is accepted, the case will be retried in another circuit of the Cairo Criminal Court.
According to CIHRS sources, the Egyptian government is attempting to reach a political deal with the American government that would exempt American staff members from a retrial in Egypt. The American government is further insisting that all politically motivated charges be dropped together with halting retaliatory measures against both the American and Egyptian defendants.
The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) hopes that our wrongly convicted colleagues in international organizations will receive justice in the Cassation proceedings, which would be a welcome first step toward relieving the crackdown on Egyptian rights organizations and human rights defenders, as well as toward closing new investigations into Egyptian organizations. CIHRS also hopes that the state will provide a free climate – without intimidation and extortion – conducive to the operation of civil society organizations, both Egyptian and foreign.
The state and its investigative entities must also suspend all retaliatory measures against Egyptian rights groups; retaliation against Egyptian civil society has escalated since 2014 after General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi assumed the presidency. These retaliatory measures include at least 29 bans on rights advocates, 10 asset freezes on human rights defenders and 7 on rights organizations including CIHRS and its director, while dozens of employees at these organizations have been summoned for interrogation since 2014.
Both parts of the Foreign Funding Case (the first against international organizations, and the second against Egyptian organizations) are based on allegations found in a report issued in July 2011 by a Ministry of Justice fact-finding committee. The report alleged that Egyptian and foreign civil society organizations received foreign funding with the purpose of fomenting chaos in the country beginning from February 2011; however, the investigative authorities failed to provide, even once, any evidence proving the veracity of this allegation.
Left without any legitimate legal avenues to prove these false allegations, the state thus turned to its friendly media outlets to launch smear campaigns against these rights organizations, with the participation of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces running the country during this period. The real trial took place in the press and on television screens. Rights workers were accused of collaboration, espionage, and high treason and were subjected to clear incitement of violence, in an attempt to obstruct their activities after January 2011.
The vicious assault against these human rights organizations is unprecedented since the emergence of civil society in Egypt: security forces raided the offices of several international and Egyptian organizations, confiscating computers and documents. The state then referred 43 Egyptian and foreign staff workers at these organizations to a criminal trial. The court unjustly sentenced them to 1-5 years in prison (suspended) for their lawful activities, in a trial that did not meet minimum standards of independence and fairness, and was marred by serious violations.
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