The Zeinhom Criminal Court’s decision today to freeze the personal and organizational bank accounts of a group of leading and award-winning human rights lawyers and campaigners over politically motivated accusations that they are using foreign funds for illegal purposes is a reprehensible blow to Egypt’s human rights movement, Amnesty International said today. These individuals may subsequently face prosecution and prison terms of up to life, equivalent to 25 years in Egypt.
“The Egyptian authorities are using this case as a way to crush the country’s human rights movement. Meanwhile, the government’s brutal crackdown on dissent shows no sign of stopping, with enforced disappearances and torture becoming a matter of state policy. Egypt needs these critical voices more than ever,” said Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International.
“We are calling for this unjust ruling to be quashed with immediate effect, and for the Egyptian authorities to cease their harassment of these human rights defenders and members of their families. This is a blatant misuse of the criminal justice system to prevent people speaking out about the rapidly deteriorating human rights situation in the country.”
The court has frozen the assets of: Hossam Bahgat, an investigative journalist and founder of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR); Gamal Eid, founder of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI); Bahey el-Din Hassan, founder and director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS); Mostafa al-Hassan, director of the Hisham Mubarak Law Center (HMLC); and Abdel Hafez Tayel, director of the Egyptian Center for the Right to Education (ECRE).
The court also froze the organizational assets of CIHRS, HLMC and ECRE. The status of EIPR and ANHRI’s assets remains unclear; while the judge did not mention them in court, they could still be linked to the individuals whose assets were frozen today. The court did not uphold asset freezes against family members of the defenders named in the case.
The case against the group was brought by judges overseeing an inquiry into human rights groups on charges that include the transfer of funds to allegedly illegal entities and using those funds for illegal purposes, such as the vaguely worded purposes of “pursuing acts harmful to national interests,” “destabilizing general peace,” or “harming security and public order.” The evidence brought against them by security agencies is their human rights work.
In recent months, the Egyptian authorities have ramped-up restrictions on human rights activists and their organizations through travel bans, asset freezes and closure orders.