CAIRO: The Supreme Court postponed on Sunday the consideration of an appeal filed by the Association for Human Rights Legal Aid (AHRLA) against the decision to close down the NGO.
The hearing was adjourned until Dec. 30.
Cairo governor Abdel Azim Wazir issued a decree ordering AHRLA’s closure on Sept. 4.
The organization, which monitors human rights violations and provides free legal assistance to victims, was accused of receiving foreign funding without prior government permission.
On Sept. 16 an official receiver went to AHRLA’s office and confiscated its chequebooks while staff and human rights activists stood in protest outside.
In a telephone interview AHRLA board chairman Tareq Khater – who is currently attending a seminar on the freedom of association organised by the Euro-Mediterranean Network in Brussels – told Daily News Egypt that the court gave a spurious reason for the decision to postpone the hearing.
“The court came up with a really odd reason to postpone the hearing. They said they didn’t know if the public prosecutor’s office had conducted investigations with me or not, which is absolutely not true, he said.
Under Law no. 84 of 2002, associations may only use foreign funding after it has been approved by the Ministry of Social Solidarity.
Critics allege that the law is used by the government as a tool to hamper civil society activity. While the law states that the Ministry of Social Solidarity must approve applications to receive funds within 60 days of receiving them, it often takes up to two years to render a decision.
Numerous human rights and political activists have been targeted under the law. In June 2000 Ibn Khaldoun Center Director Saad Eddin Ibrahim and 27 of the center’s staff were sentenced to between 1-7 years in prison for illegally receiving foreign funds.
The judgement was overturned on appeal three years later and the center reopened in 2003.
The case against AHRLA pertains to grants received from the Canadian International Development Agency, the Swiss Embassy in Cairo and the US-based National Endowment for Democracy in 2003 and 2004.
AHRLA used the funds after it requested permission to do so as required by the law and ministry officials repeatedly failed to give approval.
Khater says that the court’s decision to postpone the hearing will be extremely detrimental to AHRLA’s case.
“It’s a fatal decision for AHRLA. Despite the fact that under the law the court is supposed to decide cases in the shortest time possible, the Supreme Court today postponed the case until Dec. 30. What the court is [actually] doing is giving more time to the official receiver to seize AHRLA’s assets, he told Daily News Egypt.