U.S., Amnesty criticize Egypt for reopening NGO trial investigation

Saturday 19-03-2016 02:37 PM

Human rights defender Gamal Eid in August 2012. ASWAT MASRIYA

CAIRO Mar 19 (Aswat Masriya) - Egypt's decision to reopen the investigation of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) has prompted the concern of the U.S. and Amnesty International, expressed in two separate statements on Friday.   

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said, "I am deeply concerned by the deterioration in the human rights situation in Egypt in recent weeks and months." Meanwhile, Amnesty's deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, Said Boumedouha said Egypt's "authorities are abusing the justice system."

Responding to a reporter's question, Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri told a press conference today that Egypt is keen on caring for human rights issues, committing to the constitution and that there is continuous dialogue with U.S. partners. He added that there are concerns that Egypt has over the situation in some countries but prefers "diplomatic channels".     .

The case dates back to 2011 and has brought heavy criticism to Egypt since it started with Egyptian authorities raiding several NGOs and launching an into foreign funding received by NGOs. It later on simply came to be known as the NGO trial, in which 43 Egyptians and foreigners were convicted in 2013. At the time Kerry described the case as being "politically motivated".   

When an investigating committee reopened the investigation into the case last week, it barred four rights defenders and their families from disposing of their funds. The temporary decision includes Gamal Eid and Hossam Bahgat, two leading Egyptian rights defenders. A Cairo court was due to decide today on whether the decision will be upheld, but the court postponed the decision to Mar. 24.  

The director of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, Eid, said today in a message on Twitter that the biggest crime is born when injustice wears the robe of the judiciary, citing an Indian proverb. Bahgat, the founder of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, said on Thursday that he learned that all his assets had been frozen from news on state media.

Kerry said the decision to reopen the investigation comes against a "wider backdrop of arrests and intimidation of political opposition, journalists, civil society activists and cultural figures."

Amnesty's Boumedouha believes the measures against Bahgat and Eid "are arbitrary and punitive, imposed in response to their criticism of the deteriorating human rights situation in Egypt." He urged Egyptian government to "refrain from imposing such measures, and to end its onslaught against human rights defenders and civil society."

This case is the second time that Bahgat is being investigated in as little as a few months. He was arrested in November and interrogated by military prosecutors in connection with work he published as contributor to Mada Masr news website. Bahgat was released two days later amid calls by local and international organisations, including the United Nations, to set him free immediately.

Bahgat,  who has worked with Mada since 2014, has authored several controversial pieces including one on the Arab Sharkas cell, the alleged terrorist cell of nine people, six of whom were executed last May.

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