CAIRO: Twenty-nine Egyptian NGOs condemned the ongoing “slandering and intimidation” of civil society organizations, particularly human rights groups, saying the referral of the activists to criminal court as politically motivated.
"The affected institutions have been operating for several years without being asked to suspend their activities and without their offices being shut down," the NGOs said in a collective statement.
Forty-three NGO workers, including 19 Americans, are facing charges of illegal foreign funding and unlicensed political activity. A trial date was set to be announced Wednesday.
The statement claimed that the Egyptian government had asked two of these organizations to monitor the parliamentary elections, although the law only allows monitors from foreign NGOs that present a permit from the Foreign Ministry.
The NGOs questioned the "rule of law" and "judicial independence" and criticized the militarization of the civilian judiciary.
"The investigation of the case itself clearly refutes any claim of judicial autonomy", the statement added pointing out that the two investigating judges were handpicked by the president of the Cairo Court of Appeal.
The two judges, it added, worked for a long stint as heads of the High State Security Prosecution.
"This office is complicit in covering up the torture of defendants by State Security Investigations in political cases and functioned as a tool of the Mubarak regime, as it was deployed to settle accounts with his political enemies," it stated.
The NGOs claimed that even before the trial has begun, the Ministry of Justice and the two investigating judges have been conducting a one-sided trial in the media for the last five months. They accused the judges of tossing vague accusations against groups and individuals via leaks to the press, with the goal of smearing civil society and painting them as collaborators with foreign agendas and conspirators against the country’s stability.
"This violation is a crime punishable with prison time and fines," it said.
The American Human Rights First (HRF) organization accused Egyptian Minister of Planning and International Cooperation Fayza Aboul Naga of instigation to prosecute the 43 of the civil society activists in the Cairo Criminal Court.
The Washington and New York-based group criticized a statement Aboul Naga gave on Monday, when she revealed that she had told investigators last October that the United States’ support for organizations of democracy and human rights indicates a clear desire and determination to abort any opportunity for Egypt to rise as a modern democratic nation.
She also accused the US and Israel of wanting "to hijack Egypt’s uprising."
"Aboul Naga’s comments are a cynical attempt to appeal to nationalist sentiment and to spread disinformation," stated Neil Hicks, an official with HRF.
Hicks said that the minister’s statements threaten the peaceful democratic transition in Egypt.
The Egyptian NGOs argued in their statement that although the government falsely claimed that the funding of the accused groups is political, it willfully erred in leveling the charge of political funding, for the only area where this applies is in regard to political parties.
The collective statement condemned all willful misrepresentations of human rights organizations and called upon the parliament to make it a priority to adopt the NGO law proposed by civil society organizations.
Among the NGOs that signed the statement are the Andalus Center for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies, Budgetary and Human Rights Observatory, Hisham Mubarak Law Center, Nazra for Feminist Studies and Rights and the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression.