An Egyptian court has approved a freeze on the assets of five prominent human rights activists and three non-governmental organisations in a case related to accepting foreign funds without government authorization. Saturday’s decision paves the way for criminal proceedings against the defendants, who have been accused of “pursuing acts harmful to national interests”. They face life sentences of up to 25 years each if found guilty. The rulings can be appealed.

Gamal Eid, a vocal critic of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, is among those affected by the order of the Cairo Criminal Court. “We know from the start the case is political and the aim is revenge against NGOs that expose the state’s abuses,” said Eid, the head of the Cairo-based Arab Network for Human Rights Information.

The assets of Hossam Bahgat, the founder and former director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, will also be frozen. The court also froze the assets of three organisations and their directors; the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies and its director Bahey el-Din Hassan, the Hisham Mubarak Law Centre and its director Mostafa al-Hassan, and the Egyptian Right to Education Centre and its director Abdelhafiz Tayel. Bahgat, Eid, and nine others are also banned from travel in connection to the case that has been going on since 2011.

Amnesty International described the court order as a “shameless ploy to silence human rights activism”. Egyptian rights activists say they are facing the worst assault in their history amid a wider campaign to erase freedoms won in a 2011 uprising that ended Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule. Independent United Nations experts said in April that Egypt is closing down domestic NGOs and putting travel bans on their staff in order to obstruct scrutiny of human rights issues. See earlier posts: