A Freeze of EIPR’s Assets and Multiple Legal Violations in Court
The crackdown on EIPR continues to escalate as authorities have moved from arresting and imprisoning EIPR leaders to taking steps towards shutting down the entire organization, or at the very least preventing us from feasibly conducting our work.
On December 1st, the Third Terrorism Circuit of the Tora Court of Appeals held a session to consider an order issued by the Public Prosecution to freeze the assets of EIPR as a “precautionary measure” in the context of investigations in Case No. 855/2020. EIPR leaders Mohamed Basheer, Karim Ennarah and Gasser Abdel Razek are all being held in remand detention pending investigations in this case on charges that include joining a terrorist organization. After a brief hearing, the court announced that it will deliver its ruling on the asset freeze order at the next court session on December 6th.
These developments all point to a deliberate attempt by authorities to escalate the crackdown on EIPR by targeting the organization itself in violation of the law, both substantively and procedurally.
EIPR’s lawyers were not notified about the Public Prosecutor’s asset freeze order (No. 110/2020 in Case No. 855/ 2020) that was issued on November 28th and entered into force on November 29 prohibiting the disposal of EIPR funds, and only discovered it by accident. The order was issued in accordance with the provisions of Article 208 bis (a) of the code of criminal procedures, which allows the Public Prosecutor to take precautionary measures against the defendants’ funds, provided that the matter is submitted to the competent criminal court within seven days for consideration. The article states that “the criminal court shall render a judgment in such cases after hearing the account of the concerned parties, within a maximum period of fifteen days from the day of submitting said request to the court. The court shall decide on the extent to which the mentioned temporary order continues to remain in effect, whenever it deems it necessary to postpone considering the request made by the Public Prosecution.” In other words, this temporary order may remain in effect for months or even years without the court ruling on its legitimacy. It becomes sufficient for the court to repeatedly postpone ruling on the issue while upholding that the temporary asset freeze order remains in effect.
During the session itself, EIPR’s lawyers were not even allowed to view the content of the order nor were they able to confirm the names included in the asset freeze. They were also not allowed to meet with the defendants in private and consult with them, as has been the case since they were detained.
The Presiding judge Mohamed Abdel Salam, refused to hear the lawyers’ defense argument. And even though this was a public hearing, the judge did not allow the families of the defendants, journalists or diplomats to attend the session despite the fact that this was the first time Muhammad Basheer, who has been detained since November 15, and Karim Ennarah, who has been detained since November 18, have appeared since they were ordered into 15-day remand detention shortly after their arrests. Basheer's detention order was renewed on November 26 without him or his lawyers present before the State Security Prosecution. Furthermore, the competent authorities have not responded to visitation requests submitted by the defendants' lawyers on November 29.
In 2016, the investigative judge in Case No. 173, in which a number of the heads of human rights and other civil society organizations are accused of foreign funding, ordered an asset freeze against Hossam Bahgat, founder and president of EIPR. That order, which was upheld by the South Cairo Court, did not include EIPR’s sole company account. This latest asset freeze order that came into effect on November 29 does include EIPR’s sole account in the Arab African Bank.
Greater local and international solidarity is necessary to challenge this escalating crackdown against EIPR which now affects the very freedom of association, a basic right guaranteed in Egypt’s constitution and around the world.
What EIPR is facing is the latest attempt by authorities to strangle all forms of civic life, one which paves the way for an even deeper crackdown in the future unless we come together and put an end to these continued brazen attacks on the constitution and the freedom of all Egyptians.