Cairo – In an unprecedented act from the Egyptian government against NGOs and human rights defenders, Egyptian police arrested human rights defender and lawyer Ms. Azza Soliman from her home earlier today in Cairo. Ms. Soliman is currently being investigated in the New Cairo prosecution office by the investigative judge in the 173 case. Egyptian authorities must immediately release Ms. Soliman and halt all acts of harassment, including dropping legal actions, against her and other human rights defenders.
The arrest warrant against Ms. Soliman was submitted by judge Hisham Abdel Meguid who is responsible for the foreign funding case against NGOs no. 173/2011. This is the first arrest warrant to be issued against an NGO worker in relation to this case.
Ms. Soliman who is a human rights lawyer and founder of the Centre for Egyptian Women Legal Aid (CEWLA), and member of the Executive Committee of the WHRD MENA Coalition was banned from travel on November 17 while she was at the Cairo International Airport on her way to attend a training program outside of Egypt.
Three other defenders were banned from travel in November, bringing the total to at least 80 unconstitutional travel bans imposed against defenders, activists, academics, and figures from the media and political opposition as mentioned in a report by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) and the Association for Freedom of Though and Expression.
Ms. Soliman’s travel ban came only a few days after she learnt from the bank that the investigative judge Abdel Meguid ordered the freezing of her personal assets as well as her law firm’s assets. Ms. Soliman was never informed of any charges against her or summoned for interrogation. She was only informed of a court session on December 12th to look into the request to freeze her assets, which were already frozen in a clear violation to the legal procedures.
Today’s prosecution of Ms. Soliman differs from her prosecution in 2015, when she was a witness to the murder by police forces of another female human rights defender, Shaymaa el-Sabbagh, in a peaceful protest in Cairo on January 24, 2015. Ms Soliman was then accused of “taking part in an illegal protest” after testifying in the Shaymaa el-Sabbagh case. Ms Soliman was acquitted by a court order after a strong national and international campaign demanding her release.
CIHRS urges the Egyptian government to release Ms. Soliman and lift the travel ban imposed against human rights defenders and NGO workers. It additionally calls on president Abdelfattah al-Sisi to use his constitutional powers to veto the NGO law that was submitted to him after its approval by the parliament.
In previous statements, the CIHRS has warned that there is a systematic plan to eradicate civil society and retaliate against anyone who dared to defend human rights in Egypt. Today’s arrest, coming amidst the worst crackdown on the independent human rights movement in Egypt’s history, is clear evidence of this long-term plan.
The international community, including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and all relevant Special Rapporteurs, must immediately act to ensure that Egypt’s civil society continues operating without harassment.
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