The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH, requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Egypt.
Description of the situation:
The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the travel ban and assets freeze imposed against Ms. Azza Soliman, 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.
According to the information received, on November 17, 2016 Azza Soliman intended 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 high-profile 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) .
The Observatory would like to recall that both the imposition of travel bans and of assets freezes against human rights defenders and organisations is a common pattern of harassment increasingly used by the Egyptian authorities against human rights defenders in the country .
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 and unconditionally put an end to all restriction against her freedom of movement and association, and more in general to protect all human rights defenders in Egypt.
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 . 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.
Please write to the authorities of Egypt asking them to:
i. 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;
ii. Put an end to all acts of harassment – including at judicial level - against Ms. Azza Soliman and all human rights defenders in Egypt;
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.
· 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: firstname.lastname@example.org
· Minister of the Interior, General Magdy Abdel Ghaffar, E-mail: email@example.com, Fax: +202 2579 2031 / 2794 5529
· Minister of Justice, Mr. Ahmed Al-Zanad, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, 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: email@example.com
· H.E. Ms. Wafaa Bassim, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of Egypt to the United Nations in Geneva, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Fax: +41 22 738 44 15
· Embassy of Egypt in Brussels, Fax: +32 2 675.58.88; Email: email@example.com
Please also write to the diplomatic missions or embassies of Egypt in your respective country.