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Implications for Rights and Freedoms

Nongovernmental Organizations Case (Part 1)

Court / Presiding Judge

First Review: Cairo Criminal Court/Judge Makram Awad
Second Review: Court of Cassation/Judge Abdel Rahman Mustafa Heikal

Procedural History

On February 28, 2012, the three judges initially handling the case recused themselves, stating that the “court felt uneasiness." On March 1, 2012, the United States posted a bail of nearly $5 million for seven Americans and nine others who left the country before a travel ban was imposed. On June 4, 2013, the court issued its verdict. On April 5, 2018, the Court of Cassation issued its review of the case.


Upon first review, the court convicted 43 NGO workers of operating without a license and receiving foreign funding. Twenty-seven defendants, sentenced in absentia, received five-year prison sentences. Eleven defendants received one-year suspended sentences and five other defendants received two-year sentences. The judge also ruled that the NGOs that employed the defendants should be closed. Upon second review, the Court of Cassation overturned the sentences of 16 of the original defendants and ordered a retrial.

Summary of Reasoning

The case dates back to December 2011, when police conducted armed raids on 17 NGO offices, detaining employees and seizing equipment. Forty-three NGO workers, drawn from a number of organizations were eventually put on trial for operating illegally in Egypt. Upon first review, the NGO workers were sentenced under both the former NGO Law and various provisions of the Penal Code.

Anecdotal Notes

Under the country’s former NGO law, NGOs had to have been formally registered with the government; however, under Article 5 of the law, organizations that did not receive a response to their registration within 60 days were deemed to be legal. The Penal Code also criminalizes the establishment of an organization of an international character without license and receipt of funds without authorization. When the verdicts were ultimately issued, the U.S. issued a statement saying that it was “deeply concerned" about the result of “a politically motivated trial." Human Rights Watch, Human Rights First, and many other organizations condemned the sentences as well. A “second part" of this case against domestic Egyptian NGOs is currently being pursued by authorities as well.

Legal & Judicial Implications

This case reveals how Egypt’s former NGO law, murky in its language and violative in its principles, was in need of serious reform. Unfortunately, the new NGO Law passed by Egyptian authorities in 2017 is severely restrictive as well. The verdict in this case constituted a severe constraint on the right to freedom of association under both Egyptian domestic law and international human rights law.