Egypt: Arrest and release on bail of Azza Soliman

08/12/2016
Urgent Appeal

URGENT APPEAL - THE OBSERVATORY

New information
EGY 004 / 1116 / OBS 101.1

Arbitrary Arrest / Release on bail /
Judicial harassment
Egypt
December 8, 2016

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH, received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Egypt.

New information:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the arrest of Ms. Azza Soliman, human rights lawyer and founder of the Centre for Egyptian Women Legal Aid (CEWLA), an NGO that provides free legal, social, and psychological services to women and marginalized groups, and advocates for improved protections of their rights, and member of the Executive Committee of the WHRD MENA Coalition.

According to the information received, on December 7, 2016 at around 1.30 pm, police officers came to the house of Ms. Azza Soliman in the early afternoon presenting her an arrest warrant issued by investigative Judge Hisham Abdel Meguid, investigating on the case No. 173/2001 (commonly known as the “NGO foreign funding case) (see background information). This is the first arrest warrant to be issued against an NGO worker in relation to this case. The charges brought against her are of “receiving foreign funding to harm the State’s interest”, “establishment of an entity that conducts activities similar to that of associations’ activities“ and “tax evasion”. She has been taken by force to the Masr Al Jdede (Heliopolis) Police Station, and afterwards brought to the New Cairo Court before the investigative judge.

After several hours of interrogation, Ms. Soliman was finally released in the evening of the same day at around 8 pm after paying a bail of 20,000 EGP (approx. 1,080 €).

This new act of harassment against Ms. Soliman comes only three weeks after she was informed of a travel ban ordered without any court hearing and preventing her from leaving Egypt and of the attempt to freeze her personal assets, along with her law firm assets. Ms. Soliman and her associate were in the process of investigating the reasons of these two consecutive harassment measures at the time of the arrest. Indeed, thesame investigative judge requested a felony court to freeze her assets. The court set December 12, 2016 as the date for the hearing.

The Observatory would like to recall that travel ban and asset freezes have become a common tool of repression against human rights defenders by the Egyptian authorities [1]. Several other human rights defenders are also subjected to criminal investigation in the framework of the foreign funding case [2].

The Observatory would like to recall that this measure comes one week after the approval by the Parliament of a new NGO law [3] that, if implemented, will annihilate independent civil society in Egypt.

The Observatory is extremely concerned about this new act of harassment against Ms. Azza Soliman, which only aims at sanctioning her legitimate human rights activities, and urges the Egyptian authorities to immediately drop the trumped-up charges against her and more in general against all human rights defenders in Egypt.

Background Information:

On January 24, 2015, Ms. Soliman voluntary went to the Public Prosecution’s office to give her testimony regarding the violent dispersal by security forces of a protest organised on the same day by the political party “Popular Alliance”, which led to the death of political activist Ms. Shaimaa El Sabbagh. Ms. Soliman did not take part in the protest, but was coincidentally in the same area and witnessed the dispersal and the shooting of the activist.

After waiting several hours at the Public Prosecution’s office, Ms. Soliman was finally able to give her testimony, pointing to the responsibility of the police for the death of the activist. Ms. Soliman also filed a complaint accusing the Minister of Interior and security forces of having violently dispersed the peaceful protest.

Upon completion of her testimony, the prosecutor then interrogated her, and informed her that he was going to press charges against her and four other witnesses for “illegal gathering” and “participating in a protest that harmed public security”. Ms. Soliman was released along with the other four, pending investigation.

On March 23, 2015, Ms. Soliman was formally charged with “unauthorised protest”, and “breach of security and public order”. Along with Ms. Soliman, sixteen others were charged, including Ms. Nagwa Abbass, member of the Socialist Popular Alliance Party.

On March 28, 2015, the lawyers of Ms. Soliman requested from the General Prosecutor to include her as a witness and not as a defendant in the case, however on March 31, this request was denied.

On April 4, 2015, the first hearing took place before the Abdeen Misdemeanor Court. Ms. Soliman’s lawyers requested adjournment, as they had not been able to access the criminal files [4]. The request was granted and the Court adjourned the hearing to May 9, 2015. On May 9, the judge heard requests made by lawyers of other accused and adjourned the hearing to May 23, 2015.

On May 23, 2015, the Abdeen Misdemanour Court acquitted Ms. Soliman on charges of “unauthorised protest” and “breach of security and public order”.However, on May 26, 2015, the Public Prosecution appealed the decision. The first court hearing was due to be held on September 26, but was then postponed to October 24, 2015.

Meanwhile, on June 11, 2015, one police officer was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment on charges of “beating leading to death” of Ms. Shaimaa Al Sabbagh.

On October 24, 2015, the Qasr Al Nil Appeal Court confirmed the acquittal of Ms. Azza Soliman along with sixteen other defendants on charges of “unauthorised protesting” and “breach of security and public order”. This decision is final and not subject to appeal.

On November 17, 2016, Ms Azza Soliman attempted to travel from Egypt to Jordan in order to participate in a training for the Mushawah movement, an organisation promoting equity within the Muslim community, when she was informed by the authorities that she was banned from travelling. This followed a judicial order instructed that same day by the investigative judge in the case No. 173/2011, commonly known as “NGOs foreign funding case”, which also ordered the freezing of her personal as well as her law firm’s assets.

Ms. Soliman was never informed of any charges against her or summoned for interrogation. She is the third human rights defender and NGO Director to be banned from travelling this month, a few days after human rights lawyers Ahmad Ragheb, Founder of the National Community for Human Rights and Law (NCHRL) and Malek Adly, Director of the Lawyers Network of the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR).

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of Egypt asking them to:

i. Drop all the charges against Ms. Soliman, as well as against all other human rights defenders in Egypt as they only aim to sanction their legitimate human rights activities.

ii. Guarantee in all circumstances Ms. Soliman’s freedom of movement and association, by immediately and unconditionally lifting the travel ban and assets freeze imposed against her, as they aim only at sanctioning her legitimate human rights activities

iii. Conform with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, especially Articles 1 and 12.2; and

iv. More generally, ensure in all circumstances the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and with international and regional human rights instruments ratified by Egypt.

Addresses:

· President of the Arab Republic of Egypt, H.E. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Fax: +202 23901998
· Prime Minister, Mr. Sherif Ismail. Fax: + 202 2735 6449 / 27958016. Email: primemin@idsc.gov.eg
· Minister of the Interior, General Magdy Abdel Ghaffar, E-mail: moi1@idsc.gov.eg, Fax: +202 2579 2031 / 2794 5529
· Minister of Justice, Mr. Ahmed Al-Zanad, E-mail: mojeb@idsc.gov.eg, Fax: +202 2795 8103
· Public Prosecutor, Counsellor Nabeel Sadek, Fax: +202 2577 4716
· Mr. Mohamed Fayeq, President of the National Council For Human Rights, Fax: + 202 25747497 / 25747670. Email: nchr@nchr.org.eg
· H.E. Ms. Wafaa Bassim, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of Egypt to the United Nations in Geneva, Email: mission.egypt@ties.itu.int, Fax: +41 22 738 44 15
· Embassy of Egypt in Brussels, Fax: +32 2 675.58.88; Email: embassy.egypt@skynet.be

Please also write to the diplomatic missions or embassies of Egypt in your respective country.

***

Geneva-Paris, December 8, 2016

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH. The objective of this programme is to intervene to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
· E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
· Tel and fax OMCT + 41 22 809 49 39 / + 41 22 809 49 29
· Tel and fax FIDH + 33 1 43 55 25 18 / +33 1 43 55 18 80

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