Egypt: Lift travel bans imposed on two human rights lawyers

Egypt: Lift travel bans imposed on two human rights lawyers

Egypt: Lift travel bans imposed on two human rights lawyers

Egypt: Lift travel bans imposed on two human rights lawyers

The Egyptian authorities must immediately lift the travel bans imposed against prominent human rights lawyers Nasser Amin and Hoda Abdelwahab in connection with criminal investigations into NGOs’ legitimate human rights work, Amnesty International said today.

On 20 March 2024, after 13 years of investigations the authorities announced the closure of Case 173/2011, widely known as the “foreign funding” case, which had involved asset freezes against at least seven organizations and 11 NGO workers, as well as travel bans against at least 31 human rights defenders and NGO staff. Travel bans against 29 of them have now been lifted, but the travel bans against Nasser Amin and Hoda Abdelwahab, co-founders of independent NGO, the Arab Centre for Independence of Judiciary and Legal Profession (ACIJLP), imposed in 2016, have remained in place.

The decision to close Case 173 was announced three days after the EU and Egypt declared they were elevating their relationship to the level of a strategic and comprehensive partnership.

“The Egyptian authorities claim to have ended the sham Case 173 against NGOs, yet Nasser Amin and Hoda Abdelwahab continue to be arbitrarily banned from travel in connection to criminal investigations against NGOs. Their bans must be immediately lifted along with all other arbitrary travel bans imposed on NGO workers and former detainees in relation to separate politically motivated cases. This long overdue step must be accompanied by genuine measures to allow civil society organisations to operate freely and without fear of intimidation or prosecution,” said Mahmoud Shalaby, Egypt Researcher at Amnesty International.

“The authorities have also failed to provide reparations to human rights defenders for the harm they suffered as a result of years of judicial harassment, smear campaigns, travel bans, and asset freezes.”

ACIJLP was among the NGOs investigated in the “foreign funding” case in late 2011. Its offices were searched by police and the public prosecution in December 2011, who seized computers and documents from the premises.  On 30 January 2012, the investigative judge interrogated Nasser Amin on charges of “founding and managing an unlicenced branch of an international NGO and receiving funds from foreign entities without licence from the respective authorities.” The judge ordered the release of Nasser Amin pending investigations.

In 2014, the authorities began investigating other local NGOs in Case 173 and imposed travel bans and assets freeze against at least 31 key human rights defenders and NGO workers, some of which have lasted for six years.

In 2015, the investigating judge in Case 173 referred the investigation of ACIJLP to the Office of the Public Prosecutor, on the grounds that the National Security Agency’s investigations indicated its case differed from NGOs in the case, without specifying the grounds, according to a note written by the judge reviewed by Amnesty International.

Prosecutors never questioned Nasser Amin or Hoda Abdelwahab but in 2016, they barred both from travelling abroad without clarifying the grounds for the ban.

In 2017, the public prosecution referred their case file to the Supreme State Security Prosecution (SSSP) prosecutors, who also never summoned either for questioning. Nasser Amin’s and Hoda Abdelwahab’s appeal in 2019 appeal before the criminal court, along with 12 other human rights defenders also facing travel bans in connection with the case, was rejected in 2020.

In the announcement in March 2024 the investigating judge dropped the criminal charges against five leading Egyptian NGOs, namely  the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, the Arab Penal Reform Organization, the Cairo Institute For Human Rights Studies and Al-Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, that were still being investigated under Case 173/2011; and lifted travel bans of at least seven NGO workers. The Judge declared that this marked the end of the case, with charges dropped against all 85 NGOs involved, citing lack of evidence.

However, according to Nasser Amin, ACIJLP did not receive any official notices regarding its legal status following the announcement. Criminal investigations against them stemming from Case 173 remain pending in front of the SSSP.

The authorities have also failed to reverse asset freezes imposed on renowned human rights defenders Azza Soliman, Mostafa Al-Hassan and Hossam Bahagat since the case was closed.

Nasser Amin told Amnesty International that he lodged a complaint at the Public Prosecutor office on 2 April 2024 requesting the removal of ACIJLP from Case 173 and the lifting of travel bans against himself and Abdelwahab, but to date has received no response.

Background

ACIJLP was among the organizations first targeted along with five international NGOs in Cairo as part of the investigations into Case 173/2011.

In February 2012, the investigating judge referred the five international organisations, excluding ACIJLP, to trial, but did not drop the charges against ACIJLP.  In June 2013, 43 foreign and Egyptian workers from the other five NGOs were sentenced to prison terms of between one and five years, all of which were either issued in their absence or suspended. In December 2018, all were acquitted in a retrial, yet the criminal investigations against ACIJLP remained open.

Apart from Case 173, the Egyptian authorities have been using arbitrary travel bans to target former detainees held for political reasons including human rights defenders, NGOs workers, human rights lawyers and academic researchers.

The strategic partnership between Egypt and the EU announced in March 2023 includes €7.4 billion offered by the EU to Egypt in grants and loans up to the end of 2027 to help stabilize the country’s economy. Under the EU’s own regulations such financial assistance should be subject to pre-conditions including respect for human rights. Amnesty International and 15 Egyptian and international human rights organizations presented a three-point guide to the European Commission and member states to uphold international and EU law and to ensure that macro-financial assistance to Egypt granted under EU regulations secures concrete, measurable, structural and timebound human rights progress and reforms in the country.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Amnesty International.