The Cairo Criminal Court adjourned on Saturday the ruling on freezing assets upon request of the investigations judge in the case publicly known as the “foreign-funded NGOs case” to 24 March.
The case was brought against rights defenders Hossam Bahgat and Gamal Eid, as well as the latter’s wife and daughter.
The court adjourned the case to look into the files attached to the judge’s request and to allow the defendants to attend the next session.
The court also revealed that the first session of the case was held on 18 February adjourned to Saturday as the defendants were not officially informed of the case. Both activists denied that they were officially informed of the Saturday session too.
Defence lawyers attended the session upon hearing the news of the freezing of the defendants’ assets from a report published by state-run MENA. The court ordered the process servers to be fined for failing to inform the defendants.
Judge Hisham Abdel Megeed, who is a member of a panel running investigations into the case that was recently reopened, said in press statements on Thursday that the order to freeze the defendants’ assets and travel ban is a “precaution”.
The same judge had previously ordered a travel ban for the duo, also in relation to the foreign funding case.
The reasons behind re-opening the case are yet to be announced. Last Wednesday saw the first action in the case for months, as Abdel Megeed announced that workers and accountants of a number of NGOs which were mentioned in the original case would be interrogated.
According to judicial sources, the case will include charges of tax evasion and illegal operations, in addition to the foreign funding charges, in accordance with the disputed 84/2002 NGOs law.
The case dates back to December 2011, when prosecutors, backed by the police, stormed the offices of 17 local and international NGOs, including the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute, and Freedom House, as part of a probe into the NGOs’ allegedly illegal foreign funding.
Forty-three NGOs workers were put to trial, including 32 foreigners, and were convicted of unlicensed work and receiving illegal foreign funds. Twenty-seven defendants, all foreigners, were sentenced to five years imprisonment in absentia, while another five foreigners received two-year sentences in attendance and 11 Egyptians received a one-year suspended sentence and an EGP 1,000 fine.
The reopening of the case was met with concern, sparking fears of a new wave of crackdowns on human rights activists.
US secretary of state John Kerry issued a statement on Saturday expressing deep concern over the human rights situation in Egypt in recent months, commenting on the procedures of reopening the case, saying: “These steps run contrary to the universal principle of freedom of association and to the government of Egypt’s commitments to support the role of civil society in governance and development.”
The rights watchdog Amnesty International responded to the reports on freezing Eid’s assets, head of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), and Bahgat, a journalist and the founder of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), describing the move as “arbitrary and punitive, imposed in response to their criticism of the deteriorating human rights situation in Egypt”.
Last week, two workers from the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) and the United Group law firm were investigated in relation to the case over the organisations’ establishment, legal status, and finances.
This was not the first time, since the verdict issued in the case, that the investigation judges delegated inspectors or looked into the files of a number of rights NGOs in relation to the case.
Last March, two workers from the Egyptian Democratic Academy were investigated for the same reasons and also about the content of their work, their trips abroad, and their contact with international organisations and embassies in Cairo.
Prior to that, in January 2015, the head of the academy Hossam Eddin Aly and his deputy Ahmed Ghoneim were banned from travelling, along with political activist Esraa Abdel Fattah. The decision to ban the duo from travelling was revealed later to be in relation to the NGOs’ foreign funding case.