In News & Reports

By Mada Masr –

After 13 years of investigations, an Egyptian court dropped the charges against five of the last remaining non-governmental organizations accused of receiving foreign funds to harm the state in Case 173/2011 on Wednesday, reversing earlier decisions to freeze their assets, and ban their members from traveling.

Citing lack of evidence, the investigating judge on the case dropped the charges against the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, the Arab Penal Reform Organization, the Cairo Institute For Human Rights Studies and Al-Nadeem Center for  Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence.

The decision also stipulates ending the travel bans and asset freezes against heads and workers of the organizations named in the case. 

Today’s decision — which came without prior notification, affected NGO directors told Mada Masr — should close the curtain on Case 173/2011, according to the judge’s press statement. But after over a decade of the case, the directors said they are approaching the news with caution.

EIPR Executive Director Hossam Bahgat, who has been banned from traveling and whose assets have been frozen since 2016, called the decision “a restitution, a lifting of injustice, and an end to fabricated charges.”

“We are now awaiting an apology from authorities for the moral damages that affected our reputation and the material damage that the ban resulted in, for travel bans and seizing funds for eight years, after which it was proven that the evidence was insufficient, according to the investigating judge, which was known to everyone since the start of this fabricated case 13 years ago,” Bahgat told Mada Masr, adding that the case was only aimed at harassing Egyptian human rights activists as punishment for their work.

Arabic Network for Human Rights Information Director Gamal Eid expressed cautious optimism regarding the decision. “We have a legal expression that says: the prisoner is released when he is released, not when the release decision is issued. It’s a decision whose details we still do not know, ” he told Mada Masr. “I’ll know that the decision has been implemented and respected when I can give power of attorney at registrar offices, can deal with the bank again, and take a flight to be able to see my daughter and wife, whom I meet once a year.”

“We were surprised by the travel ban at the airport, we were surprised by the case in the newspapers, and, after eight years and a month, we learned that the case had been dropped from the media. They were the last five entities remaining in the case and so, with today’s decision, the case and the foreign financing file are theoretically closed permanently,” Eid added.

One organization still remains in limbo due to a procedural discrepancy made early in the case, its directors told Mada Masr.

Members of the Arab Center for the Independence of the Judiciary and the Legal Profession (ACIJLP) were also hesitant to celebrate, as the organization’s name was not listed in the judge’s decision. Its director, Nasser Amin, told Mada Masr that the center is still involved in the case, to the best of his knowledge, and that the travel bans and asset freezes against its directors are still in place.

Amin explained that the center’s file was separately referred to the Supreme State Security Prosecution in 2015, albeit under the same case number. As of now, no decision has been issued by the prosecution, nor has any coordination taken place with the investigating judge regarding this matter. “We are waiting to be informed if there is a decision to close the entire case,” he added.

ACIJLP Executive Director Hoda Abdel Wahab noted to Mada Masr that the organization’s referral to the prosecution stemmed from an earlier error in the case, wherein the center was incorrectly associated with foreign organizations instead of local ones. That was before the center was referred to the Supreme State Security Prosecution to clarify its status. The center has not been informed of any decisions regarding the investigation since then, she added.

On March 4, the judge similarly dropped the Hisham Mubarak Law Center from the case due to insufficient evidence, saying, at the time, that the number of local organizations dropped from the case had reached 80.

The case dates back to 2011, when the Cabinet asked the Justice Ministry to form a fact-finding committee to look into the foreign funding received by civil society groups.

In December of that year, police forces raided the headquarters of 17 civil society organizations, detained several of their workers and confiscated their belongings. The prosecutions then referred 43 of the NGO workers — including 27 foreigners — to trial in February 2012, on charges of “receiving money from abroad with the intention of committing an act harmful to the national interest or harming the country’s independence or unity, and running associations without a license.”

In June 2014, the 43 defendants received sentences that ranged from one to five years in prison. The court also ordered the shutting down of five foreign organizations operating in Egypt: International Republican Institute, National Democratic Institute, Freedom House, International Center for Journalists and Konrad Adenauer Foundation.

The investigation was split into two parts: one dealing with foreign organizations operating in Egypt, in which all defendants were acquitted in December 2018, and a second lawsuit addressing local organizations, Case 173/2011.

The committee then named over 30 foreign and local organizations it claimed were conducting activities of a “political, social, economic or charitable nature” without the appropriate licenses.

The foreign organizations were acquitted in 2018, years after many of their staff and organizers had left the country.

Domestic NGOs remained hamstrung by asset freezes, with many of their leaders facing travel bans for the following decade. Dozens of human rights workers were targeted, including Eid and Bahgat, along with Egypt country director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Mohamed Zaree; director of the Nazra Center for Feminist Studies Mozn HassanAl-Nadeem co-founders Magdy Adly, Suzanne Fayyad and Aida Seif Al-Dawla; and Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance co-founder Azza Soliman

These, and others, were interrogated in relation to this case, had their assets frozen or been banned from leaving Egypt, pending investigations into charges of receiving foreign funding with the aim of destabilizing national security. 

They lost a 2019 appeal against the provisional measures restricting their activity. Over the following years, organizations have one by one been granted access to their funds or the right to travel again, as they were removed from the case for “lack of evidence.” By August 2023, 75 organizations were ruled out from the case, with the defendants allowed to travel and access their assets again, according to a statement by the Justice Ministry.


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