Egyptian court upholds asset freeze of 3 human rights workers

Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights says decision handed down without defense lawyers even allowed to read freeze order

Karim Ennarah (L) and his now-wife Jess Kelly, after graduating from the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, in 2018. (courtesy of Jess Kelly via AP, File)
Karim Ennarah (L) and his now-wife Jess Kelly, after graduating from the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, in 2018. (courtesy of Jess Kelly via AP, File)

CAIRO, Egypt — An Egyptian court on Sunday upheld a prosecutor’s decision to freeze the assets of three workers at one of the country’s most prominent human rights groups.

The three rights workers were freed Thursday after being arrested last month and slapped with terrorism-related charges. Their release came after an international outcry over the government’s crackdown on one of the last rights groups still operating in Egypt.

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) tweeted Sunday that a Cairo court handling terror-related cases ordered a temporary freeze of “all personal assets and property” of the three members, including its executive director Gasser Abdel-Razek.

It said the court ruling came “without hearing any oral arguments or allowing defense lawyers to even read the freeze order.” The decision did not apparently cover EIPR’s assets as an entity, it said.

The arrests of Abdel-Razek, along with EIPR’s criminal justice director Karim Ennarah and administrative director Mohammed Basheer, came after the organization hosted foreign diplomats for 13 Western countries to discuss the human rights situation in Egypt. The three were released pending an investigation into charges of belonging to a terrorist group and spreading false information.

A researcher for the group arrested in February, Patrick Zaki, was awaiting the court’s decision Sunday on an extension of his detention, said Hossam Bahgat, who founded the organization 18 years ago and stepped back in as acting head after Abdel-Razek’s arrest. Bahgat’s assets have been frozen for years, and he has been banned from traveling abroad.

Investigative journalist Hossam Bahgat in his office at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights in Garden City, Cairo, Egypt, December 7, 2011. (Sarah Rafea via AP, File)

The court did not communicate its decision, despite the end of its working day, EIPR said.

In court, Zaki and his lawyer called for his immediate release, arguing that there were “no grounds” for his continued detention, EIPR said. Zaki faces accusations of spreading fake news and calling for unauthorized protests.

Egypt under President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi has overseen the heaviest crackdown on dissent in the country’s modern history. Officials have targeted not only Islamist political opponents but also pro-democracy activists, journalists and online critics.

Egypt is a US ally with deep economic ties to European countries.

The latest crackdown against EIPR raised an alarm in many parts of the world. The United Nations, some foreign governments, international rights groups, politicians and celebrities — including actors Emma Thompson and Scarlett Johansson — called for the three to be freed.

Their release came ahead of a visit by Sissi to France, a major arms provider to Egypt. Sissi arrived in Paris on Sunday and is scheduled to meet Monday with French President Emmanuel Macron, who faced calls from rights groups to pressure the Egyptian leader to free the three and other activists.

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