The Cairo Criminal Court has postponed to October the trial session of eight defendants from NGO “Beladi Foundation for Street Children” who have been detained pending trial for over a year.
On 4 May 2014, police said it raided the place and arrested Aya Hegazy and husband Mohamed Hussanein, founding managers of the organisation. The NGO was closed down due to “illegal establishment without a licence.” The children were transferred to an orphanage in Dar El-Salam.
The founders were confronted in interrogations about the illegal status of their organisation. The foundation responded to this by asserting they presented documents to the Ministry of Social Solidarity, and that the process of their legalisation was ongoing.
The defendants were referred to court last September by Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat on charges of child abuse and human trafficking, but most importantly for “inciting and exploiting children to participate in violent protests”.
Critics to the crackdown on the organisations called the couple victims of “good deeds” in media reports.
Nonetheless, a few months before the arrest, Hegazy appeared on several TV programmes as an interviewee for her constructive work with street children. Occasionally, she would be accompanied with one or two of them, who would tell their own success story.
Some of the children had appeared in TV shows after the arrest, accounting some details such as that they were told by the founders that each act of participation in a protest increases their payment, and the more the violence the higher the pay.
According to an account by Hussanein published on “Freedom to the Brave,” a movement supporting prisoners and detainees, he and the children were severely beaten by the police in the day of the arrest in Azbakeya police station. “They told the children to either confess to what they wanted or face more torture,” the letter, reportedly sent in May 2014, said.
Hussanein added that some of the children and parents told him they wanted to change their testimonies in his favour but were prevented by authorities. Some defendants in the case were charged with “changing testimonies of eye witnesses”, after they filmed one of the children saying that the Ministry of Interior pushed him to change his testimony, defence team member and human rights lawyer Sameh Samir said.
Samir is the lawyer for social activist Zeinab Ramadan, who was a friend of the foundation but not an official employee there. Ramadan was arrested nearly a week after the owners, when she responded to a mother’s request to visit her child in the new orphanage.
The orphanage was located in Dar El-Salam, a poor Cairo suburb. Beladi had taken a location in downtown Cairo.
Hegazy also holds American citizenship, and had decided to return to Egypt after the 25 January Revolution hoping to actively engage in social development. According to a testimony by political activist Mona Seif, who had met the couple in Tahrir Square, the foundation had a plan to shelter street children and develops their talents and skills through different workshops.
In the meantime, nobody is being held accountable for an event that sparked outrage in early 2014, as political forces were rallying for former Minister of Defence Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi to run for presidential elections.
The National Council for Childhood and Motherhood (NCCM) had filed a complaint to the prosecutor general’s office following a controversial video showing children of El-Rady orphanage rallying for Al-Sisi, in summer clothes when it was winter season.
In 2013, NCCM condemned the political exploitation of children by the Brotherhood in protests, stating that the children’s lives were endangered when they were used as human shields and subject to beating and physical violence, which led to the death of several.