Egyptian authorities have summoned at least five prominent human rights defenders during July 2021 for questioning as part of a decade-old criminal investigation, Human Rights Watch said today. The authorities have used Case 173 of 2011 to arbitrarily prosecute leading rights defenders and organizations over allegations of receiving foreign funds.
Since 2016, authorities have summoned for interrogation dozens of members of nongovernment groups, mostly human rights organizations, and placed over 30 of them on arbitrary travel ban lists, and frozen the assets of over a dozen organizations and individuals. Three of the five people summoned in July had not been questioned previously. The case has had a chilling impact on civic space in Egypt.
“Egyptian authorities should close Case 173 once and for all, and stop harassing independent rights organizations for doing their work,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The repeated summons, on top of travel bans and asset freezes, is clearly a tactic to stifle civic space in Egypt.”
Those summoned most recently include Mozn Hassan, a women’s rights defender and director of Nazra for Feminist Studies and Hossam Bahgat, director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, on July 29. On July 27, the authorities summoned Gamal Eid, director of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, and Negad al-Borie, director of the law firm United Group. On July 15, the authorities summoned Azza Soliman, women’s rights defender and director of the Center for Egyptian Women Legal Awareness. The authorities had not previously summoned Bahgat, Eid, or al-Borie despite banning them several years ago from leaving the country.
Based on social media posts and statements by the activists following the latest prosecution sessions, the questions by the investigative judge, Ali Mokhtar, focused on the activists groups’ funding, in some cases as far back as 2005.
Judge Mokhtar allowed them to look at the prosecution file, which consisted mainly of National Security Agency allegations against them and their organizations, such as “tarnishing the image of the government” and in some cases referencing reports these organizations published about human rights abuses. The judge did not allow any of them to take copies of the prosecution files or inform them of the actual charges they are being investigated for.
The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) said in a statement that Eid’s interrogation lasted about three hours and that the judge ordered him to return for another session on August 1. The statement said that the prosecution file, which Human Rights Watch has not seen, included National Security Agency allegations that Eid and ANHRI had played a role in the country’s 2011 nationwide uprising, and that ANHRI had received funding from Human Rights Watch and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). CPJ has denied those allegations. Human Rights Watch is typically not a grant-making organization, Human Rights Watch said.