Rights groups condemn reopening of NGO trial investigation

Monday 21-03-2016 06:39 PM

Protest to demand the release of political activists currently behind bars, on Mar. 6, 2016. ASWAT MASRIYA/ Asmaa Gamal

CAIRO, Mar 21 (Aswat Masriya) - Seventeen rights groups in Egypt condemned on Monday what they described as "escalating assault" on civil society in reference to the reopening of investigation in the case known as the Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO) foreign funding case last week.

The case dates back to 2011 and has triggered heavy criticism against Egypt since it started with Egyptian authorities raiding several NGOs and launching an investigation 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.

The court ordered the closure of the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) involved in the case, including the U.S.-based International Republican Institute (IRI), National Democratic Institute (NDI) and Freedom House.

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, the director of Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) and Hossam Bahgat, the founder of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) and a contributor to Mada Masr news website.

Bahgat was summoned and interrogated by the military prosecution in November for work he published on Mada Masr.

He was released two days later amid calls by local and international organisations, including the United Nations, to set him free immediately.

In a statement, rights groups believe "additional repressive and retaliatory measures" to be implemented with the aim of "silencing" the victims of human rights abuses.

The undersigned organisations include Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Nazra for Feminist Studies​ and El-Nadeem Centre for the rehabilitation of victims of violence and torture.

Nazra said on Monday in a separate statement that three of its staff members received official summons in the time period between Mar. 13-15 for interrogation without being provided reasons for the summons.

Last month, El Nadeem Centre, an NGO founded in 1993, was threatened with closure by the health ministry for "violations" which were not specified at the time. The Center's lawyer Taher Aboul Nasr was able to postpone the decision and the NGO later on said that if the centre and its clinic are shut down, it will "continue to release" reports and "help victims of violence and torture as long as we are doctors."

The ministry of health stated late February that El Nadeem committed two legal violations; namely changing its name and changing the nature of its activity. The centre's director, however, said the ministry was "fabricating facts".

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