Court / Presiding Judge
Cairo Criminal Court/Judge Yahya Raafat
The court issued its verdict on April 16, 2017.
All of the defendants were acquitted by the court.
Summary of Reasoning
The case dates back to May 1, 2014, when police raided the offices of Belady Foundation, a nongovernmental organization working with street children. The raid was pursuant to a complaint filed by a man who alleged that they had kidnapped his son. When the arrests were made, the Interior Ministry claimed that American-Egyptian dual citizen Aya Hijazi and her codefendants were being investigated for running an unlicensed organization and holding street children and inciting them to participate in protests. The Egyptian Homeland Security agency later accused them of using the children in Muslim Brotherhood marches, paying them to throw stones and hitting them to take part in protests. Ultimately, the prosecution leveled the following charges against the defendants: establishing and operating a criminal group with the purpose of human trafficking; sexually assaulting children using force, violence, threat, kidnapping, fraud, and deception against the children; sexually exploiting children in the filming of pornographic materials; participating in demonstrations; collecting donations; detaining children in a private location; physically torturing children; and assaulting children to compel them to take part in lewd conduct and sex.
The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights reported that “most of these charges were disproved by the forensic report to the prosecution, which found no signs that any of the children had been tortured or sexually assaulted. Witness statements from volunteers and visitors to the foundation premises, certified by the notary public office, also stated that the children were treated humanely and honorably.” Further, Hijazi’s mother stated that Hijazi and her husband had begun the process of legalizing the organization and that they were already authorized to open a bank account; because of bureaucratic red tape, the organization had not yet been able to receive an official registration number. During her interrogation, Hijazi was subjected to abuse; an officer from Egyptian Homeland Security called her names, threatened to urinate into her vagina, and said that she should be sentenced to life or death. Another officer reportedly asked her to confess that she had received foreign funds and that she had been deceived in order to be released. After interrogations were complete, the Interior Ministry stated that the children taken from the organization testified that they were being paid to participate in protests. However, Hijazi’s mother clarified that only four children testified and that they had been coerced to do so by police. According to one account, the children were threatened by the interrogating officers. Parents and children who wanted to testify in favor of Belady were reportedly denied the opportunity.
Legal & Judicial Implications
The Belady Foundation case personified the extension of Egyptian authorities’ crackdown to social enterprises and innovative social work, marking an escalation beyond the crackdown on political engagement. Further, the government’s use of street children to testify against social and political activists in this case raises serious questions on the rights of these children and the due process rights of the defendants in cases like this. Finally, the fact that Hijazi and her defendants were kept beyond the two-year pretrial maximum occurs in violation of both domestic and international law.