Update: Judge releases prominent rights lawyer Azza Soliman on bail

An investigative judge released human rights lawyer Azza Soliman on LE20,000 bail Wednesday evening.

Soliman was arrested earlier in the day from her residence, pursuant to an arrest warrant signed by the judge heading an ongoing case against local NGOs.

Soliman, a leading human rights figure, who co-founded and chairs the board of the Center for Egyptian Women Legal Assistance (CEWLA), was taken to a New Cairo court for interrogation by investigative judge Hesham Abdel Meguid.

According to lawyer Mahmoud Belal, who was present at the interrogation, Abdel Meguid accused her of tax evasion, receiving foreign funding to harm the country’s interests and establishing an illegal entity engaging in NGO work.

The case dates back to 2011, when 43 NGO workers were accused of operating non-governmental organizations without licenses and receiving foreign funding illegally. In June 2013, all the defendants — including 17 US citizens, other foreigners and Egyptians — were sentenced from one to five years in prison, many of them in absentia. The court also ordered the closure of the implicated NGOs, sparking international outrage. The case was reopened in February 2016, when a number of human rights defenders were banned from travel. Court sessions against some of these defenders began in March, in a separate case initiated by Abdel Meguid, who recommended a freeze on their assets.

Human rights defenders whose names and organizations have come up in the case file, including Hossam Bahgat and Gamal Eid, fear arrest warrants may have also been issued against them.

The arrest warrant represents an escalation in the case, which has so far developed through asset freezes and travels bans. Judge Abdel Meguid has also summoned several people who worked with the implicated organizations for interrogation throughout the year.

Soliman was informed in mid-November that her assets, as well as those of the company she runs, had been frozen. She was prevented from travel on November 19 and was told that she was a defendant in the case and that a travel ban had been issued against her two days earlier, without being given further details.

“Soliman was not summoned for interrogation, and neither were employees working in her company,” read a statement by CEWLA issued at the time, who deemed the move unlawful, arguing that Soliman should have been summoned for interrogation before a travel ban could be issued against her.

Egypt’s Parliament passed a new NGO law at the end of November, which was heavily criticized by local and international civil society bodies as being obstructive to human rights work in the country.

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