First appeal hearing in NGO foreign funding case on Thursday

The first appeal hearing in the NGO foreign funding case will be heard on Thursday by the Court of Cassation, with 43 staff members of international civil society organizations contesting June 2013 prison sentences.

Cairo Criminal Court handed five-year sentences to 32 staff members, including 17 United States citizens, and suspended one-year sentences to 11 Egyptian nationals in its June 4 ruling. The employees were accused of operating unlicensed non-governmental organizations and receiving foreign funding illegally.

Lawyer Negad al-Borai confirmed to Mada Masr that a pool from the 11 Egyptians who received suspended one-year sentences will have their appeals heard in tomorrow’s session before the Court of Cassation. However, it remains unclear exactly how many defendants will have their appeals heard on Thursday.

In a statement issued to mark the appeal hearing, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) criticized the credibility of the NGO foreign funding case, which it stated is based on allegations found in a report issued in July 2011 by a Justice Ministry fact-finding committee.

The report alleged that Egyptian and foreign civil society organizations received foreign funding with the purpose of fomenting chaos in the country beginning from February 2011; however, the investigative authorities failed to provide, even once, any evidence proving the veracity of this allegation,” the statement asserted.

“The state and its investigative entities must also suspend all retaliatory measures against Egyptian rights groups,” the statement added. “[R]etaliation against Egyptian civil society has escalated since 2014 after General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi assumed the presidency. These retaliatory measures include at least 29 bans on rights advocates, 10 asset freezes on human rights defenders and 7 on rights organizations including CIHRS and its director, while dozens of employees at these organizations have been summoned for interrogation since 2014.”

Mohamed Zaree, the head of CIHRS’s Cairo office, told Mada Masr that the appeal hearing is a “goodwill gesture” by the Egyptian government, presented to the international community against the backdrop of the upcoming 2018 presidential election.

Egyptian authorities raided the headquarters of the international organizations involved in the case in December 2011, subsequently forming a commission to investigate allegations that these NGOs had received foreign funding to foment unrest. The case was eventually divided between local and international organizations.

In March 2012, 17 US nationals implicated in the case were released on LE2-million bail and left the country.

The case was reopened in February 2016, when a number of rights workers were banned from travel. The court sessions against some of the defendants began in March of the same year.

Other rights workers and organizations involved in the case include Hossam Bahgat and Gamal Eid, whose assets were frozen and who were banned from traveling.

US Senator John McCain, who is the chairman of the International Republican Institute, has been among those criticizing Egypt’s contentious NGO law, calling it “draconian legislation.”

McCain also recently voiced criticism of Egypt’s government in an official statement issued on the seventh anniversary of the January 25 revolution.

“Sisi’s unprecedented crackdown on political activism and fundamental human rights has led to the imprisonment of tens of thousands of dissidents,” wrote McCain. “Egyptian and nongovernmental organization workers – including individuals from the International Republican Institute, which I chair – have been prosecuted and harshly sentenced for peacefully working on behalf of democratic reform.”

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