PILnet Stands with its Fellow, Human Rights Lawyer Azza Soliman
On December 7, 2016, Azza Soliman, prominent human rights lawyer, PILnet Fellow, and founder of the Centre for Egyptian Women's Legal Aid (CEWLA), was arrested at her home in Cairo. Shortly thereafter she was brought before a judge and charged with (1) receiving foreign funding to harm state interest, (2) establishing an entity that conducts NGO-like activities, and (3) tax evasion. Later that day, Ms. Soliman was released on bail and her court date was set for 12 December.
PILnet is deeply concerned about the arrest of Ms. Soliman and the travel ban and asset freeze imposed upon her. "We believe lawyers everywhere have the right to defend the public interest and should not suffer retaliation for doing so," said PILnet President, Garth Meintjes.
Ms. Soliman's detention is related to an ongoing case accusing her and other leading human rights defenders of illegally receiving foreign funding. A conviction can lead to a life sentence. She was informed by her bank that she was prohibited — per judicial injunction — from accessing her personal and professional bank accounts. This order, dated November 17th, was issued in absentia and without her knowledge, upon request of the General Prosecutor. The government's action violates Egypt's constitution and its obligations under international human rights law, as it had not investigated or charged her with a crime nor granted her a trial before implementing these measures.
According to the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), the Egyptian government has issued 80 travel bans to date, mostly against human rights defenders. Just last week, the Egyptian Parliament approved a new bill criminalizing "unauthorized civil society work." The bill, when signed into law, will impose severe operational restrictions and penalties of up to five years imprisonment and fines up to EGP 1 million (approximately USD 55,000). Punishable infractions range from collaborating with international organizations, conducting public research to accepting foreign and domestic funding, without official approval.
The bill, which has been referred to as a "death sentence" for Egypt´s civil society, has alarmed the international community. According to U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, Maina Kiai, the bill imposes "the worst restrictions on fundamental freedoms in Egypt since the 2011 uprisings," and "aims to destroy Egypt's foundation for peaceful, civic engagement at its very roots."
PILnet strongly condemns Egypt's crackdown on civil society and urges the Egyptian government to immediately drop the charges against Ms. Soliman, to reverse the asset freeze and travels bans imposed, and to refrain from approving the anti-NGO bill.
For further information, please contact Maysa Zorob, PILnet's Senior Legal Officer for the Middle East and North Africa at firstname.lastname@example.org.