Assets freeze for rights defenders in foreign-funding case postponed to April 20

The Cairo Criminal Court has postponed to April 20 its decision regarding a request to freeze the assets of human rights defenders Hossam Bahgat, Gamal Eid and two others.

The decision to freeze the activists' assets came as an investigation was reopened into the NGO foreign-funding case last week. The rights defenders are accused of receiving US$1.5 million in illegal foreign funds.

"The decision to revive the so-called '2011 foreign funding case', targeting EU partners who are crucial in the democratic development of Egypt, is of serious concern," the EU spokesperson said on Thursday.  

The case dates back to December 2011, when Egyptian authorities raided several NGOs and launched an investigation into the foreign funding the NGOs allegedly received.

The "NGO trial", as the case later came to be known, involved 43 workers in both local and foreign NGOs. Most of the defendants were convicted in 2013.

The court had also ordered the closure of the NGOs involved in the case, including the US-based International Republican Institute (IRI), National Democratic Institute (NDI) and Freedom House.

The head of the judicial committee currently investigating the case ordered a media gag on Tuesday amid rising criticism that Egyptian authorities are cracking down on civil society.  

Seventeen local rights groups have condemned the reopening of the NGO trial, describing it as part of the "escalating assault" on civil society.  

Gamal Eid, the director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) and Hossam Bahgat, the founder of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) were both recently banned from travel at the Cairo International Airport.

Bahgat, who is also a contributor to Mada Masr news website, discovered he was banned from travel late February pursuant to a prosecution order. Similarly, Eid found that he was banned from travel earlier that month as he was heading to Greece.

The US government and Amnesty International expressed their concern regarding the reopening of investigation on Friday.

Egypt's foreign minister Sameh Shoukry said in a press conference a day later that Egypt is keen on respecting human rights issues and committed to the Egyptian Constitution. Shoukry added that there is continuous dialogue with the US on such matters.

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