In a worrying new development, and upon the request of the investigating judge in case 173, five human rights defenders and NGO workers as well as two of their immediate family members were added as new co-defendants in the trial currently underway to rule on the request made by the investigating judge to freeze the assets and funds of a number of prominent human rights defenders.
Among the 11 defendants currently in the case are Bahey eldin Hassan, Director of the Cairo institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS); Moustafa El Hassan director of the Hisham Mubarak Law Center (HMLC); Abdel Hafiz Tayel, Executive Director of the Center for the Right to Education; in addition to the two human rights defenders who were already included in the asset freeze request last month, Hossam Bahgat founder of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), and Gamal Eid director of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI). This is in addition to Bahey eldin Hassan’s wife who is a French citizen and daughter as well as Gamal Eid’s wife and daughter who are also subjected to the same procedure.
None of the defendants had been formally informed of the charges against them and only learned of the court session through the media or during the session itself.
While the adjournment of the case to May 23rd means that the decision to impose the asset freeze is not effective until the final verdict is made by the court, the travel ban against Gamal Eid and Hossam Bahgat remains in effect.
Given the growing number of individuals being added to the case, it is highly expected that additional staff members of several independent human rights organizations will be summoned for investigation by the nvestigative judge throughout the coming month as well as added to the assets freeze requests.
Time frame for the case:
So far, three sessions took place on this case at the Zeinhom criminal court. The first one was in February in absence of all defendants, the second one was on March 24 th after Gamal Eid and Hossam Bahgat knew about their summon from the media and the third one took place today, April 20 after Bahey eldin Hassan, two other CIHRS staff members from CIHRS administration, HMLC director, and the director of the Egyptian Center for Education Rights were added as co-defendants in the case along with Mr. Bahgat and Mr. Eid.
Additionally, and under the pretext of the same case n. 173, the investigative judge has summoned on several occasions between March 7 and April 1, two staff members from the CIHRS for investigation , 3 staff members from Nazra for Feminist Studies, 3 former staff members of the Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies and one accountant from the United Group.
It is worth noting that after the immense pressures put by several principled international actors, mainly through public statements by the UN Secretary General, the UN Office of High Commission for Human Rights, the US State Department, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the German and Dutch ministries of foreign affairs and others, the investigative judges never appeared on the dates CIHRS and Andalus staff members were summoned, the investigation with the director of Nazra was postponed as well. As such CIHRS staff who were summoned to the court for the asset freeze case were never practically investigated.
On March 22, the executive director of Nazra for Feminist Studies Ms. Mozn Hassan was formally accused of receiving foreign funds without authorizations.
We expect after today’s court session, more members of these groups will be summoned for investigation and later transferred to court.
What is Case No. 173?
Case No 173 is commonly referred to as the “case on foreign funding of civil society.” In July 2011, the cabinet ordered the Minister of Justice to set up a fact-finding committee to look into foreign funding received by civil society groups and to determine which of those groups are registered under Law 84. The report was completed in September 2011 and was included as part of the evidence brought by prosecutors against the international NGOs in the 2012-13 prosecution which is why it is now publicly available. The document includes a report from the National Security Agency and another from the Egyptian General Intelligence Agency that lists almost every independent human rights organisation in Egypt as well as the international NGOs who were subsequently prosecuted and sentenced.
In June 2013, a Cairo criminal court sentenced 43 foreign and Egyptian employees of foreign NGOs to sentences ranging between 1-5 years. The directors and senior staff were sentenced to 5 years mostly in absentia, Egyptian staff who remained in-country were given 1-year suspended sentences. The court also ordered the closure of the organisations in question, the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute, Freedom House, the International Center for Journalists and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation.
What charges will defendants face? What sentences do they carry?
The charges listed in the investigative judge’s asset freeze order dated February 2 (which were also the charges in the 2012-13 trial) are:
Article 78 of the Penal Code amended by President Sissi in September 2014, which increased the penalty to life imprisonment for vaguely phrased charges that include receiving money from abroad “with the aim of pursuing acts harmful to national interests or destabilizing general peace or the country’s independence and its unity.”
Article 98(c)(1) of Egypt’s penal code, which states: “Anyone who creates or establishes or manages an association or organization or institution of any kind of an international character or a branch of an international organization without a license in the Egyptian Republic shall be punished with imprisonment for a period of not more than 6 months or with a fine of 500 EGP. The maximum penalty shall be multiplied if any of the authorisation was based on false information. A punishment of three months or 300LE shall be brought against anyone who joins an organisation or entity of those mentioned, as well as any Egyptian living in Egypt who joins or affiliates himself in any way without authorisation from the government to such entities based abroad.”
Article 98(d) “a punishment of not more than 5 years and a fine of not less than 100 and not more than 1000 LE shall be implemented against all those who receive or accept directly or via an intermediary by any means money or benefits of any form a person or entity outside the country or inside it when the purpose is to commit a crime listed in 98(1), 98(1)(bis), 98(b), 98(c), or 174 of this code.
Under Article 76(2)(a) of the Associations Law 84/2002, failure to register is punishable by imprisonment for up to 6 months.
Who are the organizations at risk of prosecution this time?
There are 37 organisations named in the Fact-finding Committee report who may therefore at risk of prosecution. On October 9, 2015, the Egyptian daily Al-Youm Al-Sabea leaked a scanned copy of a request by the investigation judge in connection with Case No.173 to the tax authorities enquiring about the tax compliance of 25 Egyptian organizations, including those listed above and also the Hisham Mubarak Law Center, the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, the Arab Organization for Penal Reform, the Land Center for Human Rights, Appropriate Communications Technologies and the Egyptian Association for Community Participation & Enhancement.
In the past eight weeks, the following organisations have been targeted:
1. The Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI): travel ban and asset freeze against director Gamal Eid.
2. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies: summons to three of their staff (one in June 2015 and two in March 2016), previous inspection attempt of premises on order of investigative judge. Asset freeze against the Director Bahey eldin Hassan and two administrative staff members.
3. The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR): travel ban and asset freeze against founder and board member Hossam Bahgat.
4. Nazra for Feminist Studies: official summons to three of their staff (two administrative, one programmatic) to the investigation.
5. Hisham Mubarak Law Center: Asset Freeze against its director Moustafa Al Hassan.
6. The Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence: served on 17 February with a closure order by the Ministry of Health for “breach of licence conditions.”
7. United Group: director Negad al-Borei was interrogated by prosecutors on March 3, 2016 on charges of ” establishing an unlicensed entity named “United Group – Attorneys-at-law, Legal Advisors” for the intent of inciting resistance to the authorities, implementing human rights activities without a license, receiving funds from the National Center for State Courts (NCSC), deliberately spreading false information with the purpose of harming public order or public interest.”. United Group’s accountant was also summoned on March 15.
What legal measures have been taken in the past weeks against NGOs that indicate prosecution is forthcoming?
Travel bans: Gamal Eid, founder of ANHRI was informed of his travel ban at the airport on February 4 as he was trying to leave and Hossam Bahgat, founder of EIPR, of his ban on February 23.
Asset freeze: on March 17 Hossam Bahgat and Gamal Eid learnt that the investigative judges had ordered the freezing of their assets and this would be reviewed by the Zeinhom Criminal Court on March 20. The Court has adjourned the case to April 20 after a demand from the public prosecutor. On April 19, Bahey eldin Hassan, two additional staff members of CIHRS, and Mostafa Al Hassan were informed at 9 pm through a phone call from the Egyptian police that they are summoned on the April 20 session along with Mr. Bahgat and Mr. Eid.
On April 20, the court has decided to adjourn the case until May 23.
Closure order: on 17 February 2016, a police delegation sent by local authorities went to the Nadeem Center’s offices and handed them an order of administrative closure by the Ministry of Health “for breaching licensing conditions.” Four days later Nadeem directors and lawyers met with ministry of health officials who told them that the decision had come from the cabinet. On April 5, A joint task force from the Health Ministry and the police attempted to close Al-Nadeem Center but than left after the directors of the Centers have refused to comply.
The background on the case is from a joint brief by Eight independent Egyptian Human Rights Organizations