A Cairo court reviewed a prior recommendation by an investigative judge to freeze the assets of leading human rights advocates Hossam Bahgat and Gamal Eid on Thursday, in a reopened case against a number of NGOs and rights organizations that dates back to 2011.
Thursday’s session was heard by Cairo Criminal Court and was adjourned to April 20.
Bahgat, who founded the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), and Eid, founder and director of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, both face accusations of receiving US$1.5 million in illegal foreign funding.
During the court session, Bahgat was asked about a company called the Initiative Company for Legal Consultancy, which is the legal name of EIPR. He explained the company doesn’t fall under the NGO law and is officially registered with the investments authority. Asked about the company’s activities, Bahgat explained that it mostly conducts research on social, legal and public policy matters, and presents recommendations to the government.
Bahgat demanded the asset freeze ruling be revoked unless clear charges are presented against him.
“The judge was trying to get information from me to add to the case file. Everyone is confused, because we are not supposed to be here before being officially summoned. The judge didn’t know what to do, the prosecution didn’t know what to do,” Bahgat told Mada Masr, after the session.
As for Eid, during the session he clarified that his wife, whose assets are also being considered in the case, is a foreigner and is working independently with her own income. He said there is no evidence of money transfers to his account from overseas.
“It was clear that the case is political from today’s hearing,” Eid told Mada Masr. “I am concerned about the questions Bahgat was asked. The questions directed at me were more centered on my bank account, which is the subject of this case. There is a legal impasse for them now, either they deny the asset freeze request of the investigative judge or postpone the case until we are officially summoned and there is evidence against us,” Eid said, adding, “An asset freeze is a precautionary procedure that should follow the summoning of the suspects and the finding of evidence against them. So long as we are not defendants officially, they can’t really rule.”
Commenting before the session, Bahgat said the progression of the case has been strange. “We faced asset freezes and travel bans before being officially summoned,” he explained.
Defense lawyers argued the defendants are being wrongfully tried.
Both Bahgat and Eid were banned from traveling in February, without being given any explanation as to why. Last week, an investigations judge recommended the freezing of their assets. A scheduled session to review the recommendation was postoned Saturday until Thursday to allow lawyers space to examine the case files and Bahgat and Eid time to attend the session.
Thursday’s session witnessed a large turnout from lawyers and advocates working in the field of human rights.