Founder and director of Nazra for Feminist Studies Mozn Hassan was officially summoned in the reopened 2011 case against a number of nongovernmental organizations accused of receiving foreign funding, the organization said in a statement on Tuesday.
Hassan was summoned following the interrogation of three other Nazra staff in the same case, who were questioned at the New Cairo Court on Tuesday about the organization and the nature of their work.
Hassan accompanied her colleagues, two of whom hold managerial positions and the third who works on Nazra’s programs, when she was repeatedly referred to as “a defendant” in the case.
The investigation judge informed Hassan verbally that she would be questioned on March 29, and that her lawyers would be able to review the case files on March 27.
Hassan told Mada Masr on Wednesday that she is the first staff member to be officially summoned. She explained that the three other Nazra employees were only summoned as part of the investigation, but are not considered defendants in the case.
“During their interrogation, I was always referred to as a defendant. Others who were banned from traveling or had their assets frozen were not officially summoned yet, which makes me the first official defendant,” Hassan said, adding that she won’t attend on March 29 unless her lawyers review the case files first. “I have to look at the case files to know the exact charges against me. If lawyers fail to get the case file on Sunday, I won’t attend, and the judge will have to send me a written summons, not a verbal one,” she stated.
The case was originally filed in 2011, accusing a number of NGOs of operating and receiving foreign funding without a license. Forty-three staff in foreign NGOs — including 17 US citizens, other foreigners and Egyptians — were sentenced to prison in June 2013, many in absentia.
Staff from local NGOs implicated in the investigation weren’t sentenced in 2013, and it wasn’t clear at the time if they might be brought to trial at a later date.
The re-opened case also includes a number of well-known human rights activists and journalists, including the executive director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Gamal Eid and the founder of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights Hossam Bahgat. Both found out about their inclusion in the case and the freezing of their assets from the state-owned Middle East News Agency.
Nazra sees their inclusion in the 2011 case within the context of a broader government crackdown on independent civil society organizations, citing a number of methods the state has used to restrict the activities of such groups, including: interrogations, travel bans and inspection visits, according to their statement.
“We are really worried because this is a case where people are not only trying to jail us, but to stigmatize us and our work locally,” Hassan previously told Mada Masr.
On Tuesday, the German and British governments expressed their concern over the deterioration of human rights in Egypt, referring specifically to the foreign funding case.
“Respect for human rights and a free civil society are a cornerstone for sustainable stability. We demand the Egyptian government provides an atmosphere that enables human rights groups to perform their important role without restrictions,” a statement from the German Embassy in Cairo read.
The UK government added on Tuesday that the reopening of the NGO case would “undermine international confidence in Egypt’s political transition.” UK Minister for North Africa, Tobias Ellwood, said the 2014 Egyptian Constitution allowed for civil society organizations to operate freely.
“A strong, successful Egypt, built on the rule of law and with open political processes is important to us all,” Ellwood asserted. “I encourage the government of Egypt to work with civil society organizations to implement the rights guaranteed by the Egyptian constitution and allow non-governmental organizations to operate freely.”