Egypt blasts UN chief over case of rights groups

2016-04-20 16:58
Ban Ki-Moon (Ahmed Ouoba, AFP)

Ban Ki-Moon (Ahmed Ouoba, AFP)

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Cairo - Egypt on Wednesday blasted the UN chief for calling for a fair trial for two prominent rights activists accused of illegally receiving foreign funds for their NGOs, in the latest sign of Egypt's growing impatience with criticism of its human rights record.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Ahmed Abu Zeid said in a statement that comments by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon were an attempt to intimidate Egypt's judiciary and meddle in its affairs.

A spokesperson for Ban said in a statement late on Tuesday that he was "following closely" the government's legal case against NGOs over the foreign funds issue and that the two activists - Gamal Eid and Hossam Bahgat — should "benefit from all due process and fair trial standards."

Eid and Bahgat appeared on Wednesday before a criminal court in Cairo that was to decide whether to freeze their assets.

During a brief hearing, defence lawyers for the two men submitted bank statements that Eid said showed none of the foreign funds they had received had been placed in their personal bank accounts.

The court was expected later on Wednesday to rule on a request for adjournment by the prosecution.

Eid is the founder and director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information. Bahgat, founder of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, is among Egypt's most prominent investigative journalists.

President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi's government has placed restrictions on civil rights groups at a time when criticism is growing of the country's human rights record, particularly police abuse. The case of an Italian doctoral student who was kidnapped, tortured and killed in Cairo this year has fuelled the criticism and poisoned Cairo's close ties with Rome.

Italy has withdrawn its ambassador in Egypt in protest against what it says is the lack of full cooperation by Egyptian investigators. El-Sissi has denied any involvement in the case by Egypt's security forces.

Foreign funding

The case against Eid and Bahgat is part of a wider legal drive by authorities against NGOs over the issue of foreign funding. The legal proceedings began in 2011 and became dormant for a few years, but were recently revived.

Earlier this week, authorities decided to start separate legal proceedings to freeze the assets of four other rights activists in what appears to be an escalation in the face of the growing criticism abroad.

The question of Egypt's human rights record figured prominently during a visit this week to Egypt by French President Francois Hollande, whose country is a key foreign backer of el-Sissi's government with multi-billion dollar investments and arms sales.

"Here, we are safeguarding 90 million people who must live," el-Sissi said in reply to a reporter's question during a joint news conference with Hollande. Then, in a stern warning, he added: "You have no idea what will happen to the region and to Europe if this nation collapses. We do not ignore human rights, but you must know that there are evil powers that work toward giving a negative impression about what is going on in Egypt."

Read more on:    un  |  ban ki-moon  |  egypt  |  north africa

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