Egypt’s Court of Cassation overturned on Thursday prison sentences against 16 defendants in a case dubbed in the media as the “Foreign Funding” case.
A total of 16 defendants, out of 43 Egyptian and foreign workers, were sentenced in June 2013 to prison sentences between one and five years. A number of human rights activists have appealed against the sentences at the Court of Cassation.
As per the Thursday ruling, the defendants will be retried before a different court panel.
As per the investigations, the sentenced defendants, including 14 Egyptians and 29 Americans, Europeans and Arabs, are charged of receiving $60 million in foreign funds for human rights organizations and NGOs working in Egypt without licenses to “use it for restricted activities and in violation of the state’s policy.”
The case opened in 2011 when the cabinet ordered the Minister of Justice to set up a fact-finding committee to look into foreign funding received by the civil society groups in Egypt. The committee finished its report in September 2011, which included the lists of independent human rights organizations in Egypt as well as international NGOs.
The interrogations of NGO staff began in January 2012 as the defendants were formally charged and referred to trial in February 2012.
On June 4, 2013, Cairo Criminal Court handed five-year-sentences in absentia to 32 defendants, including 17 U.S. citizens and one-year-suspended sentences to 11 Egyptian defendants. The court ordered the closure of the organizations in questions, including: the International Republican Institute, National Democratic Institute, Freedom House, International Center for Journalists and Germany’s Konrad Adenauer Foundation.
Three years later in 2016, the Egyptian prosecution added more NGOs including: the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), Nazra for Feminist Studies, the Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and United Group. Three staff members of Nazra for Feminist Studies appeared before the investigations.
In addition, the renowned rights activist Hossam Bahgat is being investigated. He is a journalist and the founder of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), as well as Gamal Eid, a lawyer and founder of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) as they are accused of receiving illegal funds for their NGOs.
They both have been banned from traveling and their assets were frozen along with the assets of Eid’s daughter and wife. The Cairo Criminal Court approved a freeze on their assets in September 2016.