NGO foreign funding case defendants submit lawsuit to challenge extension of investigating judge’s appointment

An appeal to challenge the extension of the appointment of the investigating judge presiding over the NGO funding funding case was submitted to the State Council on Monday by several human rights workers standing trial in the controversial case.

The defendants submitted the lawsuit after the president of the Cairo Court of Appeals, who had be invested with the authority to act on behalf of the court’s general assembly, extended the term of the judge Hesham Abdel Meguid, who has presided over the case for three years.

The lawsuit contends that the extension violates Article 66 of the Criminal Procedures Code, “which requires that the investigating judge be appointed for a period of 6 months to be renewed for another 6 months in certain cases,” according to a statement the defendant’s’ released on Monday.

“[The investigating judge has for at least two years been working on the case without legal or judicial jurisdiction, during which he issued dozens of invalid decisions regarding travel bans, prohibition of the use of funds and at least one arrest order,” the statement asserted.

Mohamed Zaree — the head of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, a defendant in the case and a party to the lawsuit— asserted that the law limits the length of time an investigating judge can preside over a case to six months. In the event that the judge is unable to complete his investigation, he must apply to the General Assembly of the Court of Appeals for an extension of his appointment, which can be lengthened for a maximum of six months, while also explaining the reasons for not being able to complete the investigation.

The time limit placed on Egypt’s investigating judges is meant to ensure the expedient conclusion of cases, the CIHRS head told Mada Masr. “This is so that the charge will not remain as a sword hanging over the necks of the accused,” Zaree said, adding that this is particularly relevant in the NGO foreign funding case considering the measures Abdel Meguid has taken during the course of the investigations, including ordering defendants’ assets to be frozen and banning them from travel.

Zaree said that he submitted a request during his own interrogation to review the reasons Abdel Meguid had given for an extension. The Cairo Court of Appeals accepted this request and referred it to the investigating judge, according to Zaree. However, Abdel Meguid declined to provide access to the requested memoranda concerning his petition for an extension.

The submission of Monday’s lawsuit comes after several defendants in the case were recently summoned for investigation, during which they were presented with charges related to tax evasion, the receipt of funds used to incite against state institutions and connection to entities that conduct civil society activities without a license. Lawyers Malek Adly and Osama Khalil were released on bail last week after being summoned for interrogations in the case.

The NGO foreign funding case dates back to 2011, when 43 civil society workers were accused of operating non-governmental organizations without licenses and receiving foreign funding illegally. In June 2013, all the defendants — including 17 US citizens, other foreign and Egyptian nationals — were sentenced to between one and five years in prison, many of them in absentia. The court also ordered the closure of the NGOs implicated in the case, sparking international outrage.

The case was reopened in February 2016, when a number of human rights workers were banned from travel. The court sessions against some of the defendants began in March of the same year.

Other rights workers and organizations involved in the case include Hossam Bahgat and Gamal Eid, whose assets were frozen and who were banned from traveling.

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