Egypt: the ‘foreign-funding’ accusation against human rights defenders goes in overdrive

April 3, 2018

An Egyptian lawyer, Samir Sabry, has requested the Attorney General to bring human right defender Asmaa Mahfouz to court. The reason? Winning the Sakharov Prize in 2011! If Egypt Today had reported it a day earlier (on 1 April), I would have credited it as a good April 1st spoof, but unfortunately it is not. In his complaint, Sabry called for the Attorney General to transfer Mahfouz to a Criminal Court trial and ban her from travelling outside the country. He stated that the prize, worth €50,000  was given to her suddenly, and he did not know why. He asked whether it is funding, a reward, or for certain service, and what the reason is for this award. The complaint from Sabry also claimed that this is a Jewish award [SIC} and questions the award’s links to Zionism. According to Sabry, the answer is that Mahfouz received the prize money, and accepted the award, in return for betraying Egypt.

Asmaa Mahfouz was one of the founding members of the April 6 Youth Movement, which sparked nation-wide demonstrations in April 2008 and was indeed awarded the Sakharov prize in 2011 (sharing it with four other Arab figures).

The prize in question is the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought [http://trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/sakharov-prize-for-freedom-of-thought], which is of course is not granted by Israeli but by the European Parliament!

However, the issue of foreign funding is a major one in the Egyptian context as demonstrated by the case of two Egyptian woman human rights defenders in the ‘NGO foreign-funding case” (as ISHR reminds us on 29 March 2018):  harassed and targeted Egyptian woman defenders Azza Soliman and Mozn Hassan [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/02/02/right-livelihood-has-to-go-to-egypt-to-hand-mozn-hassan-her-2016-award/] face life imprisonment if their cases are brought to trial simply for conducting legitimate human rights work.

The Egyptian Government has singled out Mozn Hassan, head of the non-governmental organisation Nazra for Feminist Studies (Nazra), and Azza Soliman, head of the Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance (CEWLA), for their work to promote and protect women’s rights. Hassan and Soliman are just two targets of the Egyptian Government’s Case 173 (2011), known as the ‘NGO foreign-funding case.’ The case has so far resulted in convictions and prison sentences in June 2013 for 43 foreign and Egyptian employees of foreign NGOs. No appeals have yet been heard. …Like other civil-society members caught up in the case, both Hassan and Soliman received a travel ban in 2016, rendering them unable to leave the country. 

In late 2016 and early 2017, both Hassan and Soliman had their personal assets frozen, in addition to those of Nazra and Soliman’s private law firm Lawyers for Justice and Peace. Nazra is the first group registered under the Ministry of Social Solidarity to suffer such a freeze, setting a precedent for further harassment of independent Egyptian NGOs. Nazra’s staff is currently working on a volunteer basis.

..The charges that Soliman and Hassan may face if the proceedings go forward include the establishment of entities in violation of the NGO law, tax evasion, and receiving foreign funding to harm national security. If convicted, they could receive sentences of life imprisonment.

A 2016 report by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies and the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression found that at least 80 unconstitutional travel bans have been issued against defenders, media, and political opposition figures.

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https://www.egypttoday.com/Article/1/46809/Lawsuit-against-Asmaa-Mahfouz-over-winning-Sakharov-Prize-in-2011

http://www.ishr.ch/news/egypt-woman-defenders-face-harassment-possible-life-imprisonment

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/03/23/broad-coalition-of-ngos-at-un-condemns-egypts-treatment-of-women-human-rights-defenders/

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