On Sunday April 16, a Cairo criminal court acquitted Egyptian-American activist Aya Hijazi and six co-defendants on charges of human trafficking, kidnapping, and the sexual exploitation and torture of children. The verdict comes after a series of adjournments throughout 2016, with the most recent being in March.
Hijazi was arrested in May 2014 and charged in September 2014 for her work as the founder of the Belady Foundation, a non-profit organization working with Egypt’s street children to reunite them with their families and provide educational and housing programs. The charges against the defendants were unsubstantiated, with those of torture, sexual abuse, and molestation disproved by forensic medical reports and notarized statements of volunteers and witnesses affirming that children were treated humanely and regularly visited by family members.
While the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP) applauds this verdict, it continues to call upon the Egyptian government to adhere to its domestic and international obligations to guarantee freedom of movement and association. These obligations have been broken by the continued prosecution of Case 173, forced closures or organizations such as El Nadeem, travel bans issued to human rights defenders, and the introduction of a repressive NGO law, among other repressive actions and legislation.
Entities like Belady are valuable partners to the Egyptian government, providing development initiatives that respond to the socioeconomic issues that currently plague Egypt. Intimidation and prosecution of civil society organizations not only costs the government this cooperation, but eliminates institutional channels for dissent in response to such issues. Moreover, NGOs’ right to function is protected by the 2014 constitution, which guarantees freedom of association and movement.