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Arrest of Azza Soliman

Status: 
Assets frozen
About the situation

On 14 December 2016 the North Cairo Court decided to freeze Azza Soliman’s assets, as well as that of her organization, LJP in confirmation of a judicial order given on 17 November, on the basis of the human rights defender’s involvement in the foreign funding case. In the same judicial order Azza Soliman was also issued a travel ban. On 7 December 2016, the human rights defender was arrested at her home and interrogated as part of an ongoing investigation in the foreign funding case. This was the first arrest made against a leader of an NGO in Egypt that is involved in the foreign funding case. Azza Soliman was released the same day on bail pending investigations.

About Azza Soliman

Azza Soliman. Credit: Front Line DefendersAzza Soliman is a prominent lawyer and the founder of the Center for Women's Legal Assistance (CEWLA). She is currently serving on its board of trustees. CEWLA is a feminist organisation that campaigns to promote gender equality, focusing in particular on legislative reform and awareness-raising.

15 December 2016
More HRDs Targeted by Assets Freeze orders

On 14 December 2016 the North Cairo Court decided to freeze Azza Soliman’s assets, as well as that of her organization, LJP in confirmation of a judicial order given on 17 November, on the basis of the human rights defender’s involvement in the foreign funding case known as Case No. 173. In the same judicial order Azza Soliman was also issued a travel ban. On 7 December 2016, the human rights defender was arrested at her home and interrogated as part of an ongoing investigation in the foreign funding case. This was the first arrest made against a leader of an NGO in Egypt that is involved in the foreign funding case. Azza Soliman was released the same day on bail pending investigations.

In a hearing on 12 December, lawyers for Azza Soliman discovered that the North Cairo Court is also considering freezing the assets belonging to Mozn Hassan and Mohamed Aly Zarea and their respective organisations. Neither human rights defender was previously notified that a freeze of their assets would be be considered in the 12 December court hearing.

Since 2011, 37 Egyptian rights organisations have faced charges under the foreign funding case,  with some leaders and staff members charged with “receipt of illegal foreign funding” and “working without legal permission”. On 17 September 2016, in connection with this case, an Egyptian court approved a freeze on the assets of five human rights defenders and three human rights NGOs. And in May 2016, five other human rights defenders were banned from travel. On 27 June 2016, Mozn Hassan was banned from travelling to Beirut from Cairo International Airport. She was not officially notified of the travel ban imposed against her beforehand. The human rights defender is still under travel ban.

Front Line Defenders condemns the criminalization of civil society in Egypt, including through the imposition of travel bans, the blocking of human rights organisations’ bank accounts and the freezing of their assets. Front Line Defenders calls for an immediate end to the persecution of human rights defenders, reiterating their essential role in the development of a just and equal society.

8 December 2016
Azza Soliman released on bail

On 7 December 2016, a Cairo court released Azza Soliman on bail, pending investigations into her alleged involvement in the illegal foreign funding of NGOs, also known as case No. 173. The human rights defender was arrested earlier that day at her home in Cairo.

22 November 2016
Ongoing Judicial Harassment of Azza Soliman

On 19 November, the crackdown on the Egyptian human rights movement continued to escalate. Egyptian authorities banned Ms. Azza Soliman from travelling to Jordan from Cairo International airport to participate in a training on human rights. On 17 November, Azza Soliman’s personal and organisational bank accounts were frozen by judicial order.

The Qasr El-Nil Misdemeanour’s Court in Cairo sentenced Egyptian human rights defender and prominent journalist Mr. Khaled Elbalshy, and two of his colleagues, Yehia Qalash and Gamal Abdul-Rahim, to two years in prison. They were charged of harbouring journalists who were wanted by Egyptian authorities for expressing critical views against the government.

Download the Urgent Appeal (PDF)

Yehia Qalash, Gamal Abdul-Rahim and Khaled Elbalshy are currently out on bail, pending appeal. In a statement following the sentence, human rights defender Khaled Elbalshy urged journalists not to be discouraged from continuing their work by this verdict. He then highlighted that there are 28 journalists currently serving prison sentences in Egypt. On 29 May 2016, Egyptian authorities detained the human rights defender on charges of “disseminating false news and rumours” and “sheltering criminals”. Downtown Cairo Prosecution granted the human rights defender EGP10,000 bail, which was paid. He was subsequently released pending trial on 4 June 2016.

On 19 November, while Azza Soliman was at Cairo International airport, Egyptian authorities informed her that she had been issued with a travel ban by judicial order on 17 November. No clarification was provided as to why the order had been issued. She is planning to file a report to the Egyptian Attorney General in order to investigate the legal grounds for the travel ban. This is not the first time that the human rights defender has been subjected to judicial harassment. Azza Soliman was a witness to the murder of activist Shaimaa ElSabbagh, who was killed while peacefully protesting on 24 January 2015. In March 2015, the Qasr El Nile Prosecution Office in Cairo changed Azza Soliman’s status from being a witness to the killing of Shaimaa ElSabbagh to a defendant, accused of protesting illegally. She was acquitted of the charges, which the prosecutor subsequently appealed. However, Azza Soliman’s aquittal was upheld in October 2015.

On 17 November, Azza Soliman found that both her personal and LJP’s organisational bank accounts had been frozen by judicial order on the basis of her involvement in the 2011 foreign funding case, also known as Case No. 173. Since 2011, 37 Egyptian rights organisations have faced charges under this case, with some leaders and staff members of human rights organisations charged with “receipt of illegal foreign funding” and “working without legal permission”. On 17 September 2016, In connection with this case, an Egyptian court approved a freeze on the assets of five prominent human rights defenders and three leading human rights NGOs. And in May 2016, five other human rights defenders were banned from travel in a wave of harassment against the Egyptian human rights movement.

The judicial harassment against Azza Soliman and Khaled Elbalshy comes at a time when Egypt seems to be institutionalising its crackdown on human rights defenders. On 15 November, a highly restrictive draft NGO law was approved by Egyptian parliament for review before the Egyptian Council. The proposed law threatens to imprison human rights defenders and NGO staff from one to five years and fine them between EGP50,000 and EGP1,000,000 if they inter alia facilitate or participate in activities carried out by international organisations without authorisation of the Egyptian authorities, or if they carry out field research and public polls in their capacity as civil society without prior consent.

The proposed law would also grant Egyptian authorities control over the establishment of Egyptian NGOs and would also require international NGOs to register with the Egyptian authorities. The draft law also gives Egyptian authorities the power to dictate the location and headquarters of civil society operations, and proposes to imprison human rights defenders for up to one year and fine them between EGP20,000 and EGP500,000 for carrying out “crimes” such as moving the headquarters of the organisation to a place other than what had been previously authorised. The proposed law also places individual liability on government staff members that authorise the work of NGOs in contravention with the aforementioned draft law.

Front Line Defenders condemns the criminalization of civil society in Egypt, including through the imposition of travel bans, the blocking of human rights organisations’ bank accounts and the freezing of their assets. Front Line Defenders calls for an immediate end to the persecution of human rights defenders, reiterating their essential role in the development of a just and equal society, and is also deeply concerned by the new restrictive draft NGO law recently approved by Egyptian Parliament.

Front Line Defenders urges the authorities in Egypt to:

1. Drop all charges against Khaled Elbalshy and his colleagues as Front Line Defenders believes the journalists has been targeted solely as a result of its legitimate human rights activities;

2. Immediately and unconditionally remove the travel ban imposed against Azza Soliman and all other human rights defenders facing travel restrictions in Egypt, as Front Line Defenders believes that they are being restricted solely as a result of their legitimate and peaceful work in the defence of human rights;

3. Refrain from adopting the draft NGO law introduced on 14 November before the Egyptian Parliament as it would severely hamper the work of human rights organisations in Egypt;

4. Cease targeting all human rights organisations and human rights defenders in Egypt and guarantee in all circumstances that they are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment.

26 May 2015
Egypt – Prosecutor appeals the acquittal of HRD Azza Soliman

On 26 May 2015, the Qasr al-Nile Prosecution appealed the recent acquittal of Azza Soliman and 16 members of the Socialist Popular Alliance Party. The appeal will be heard on 13 June 2015.

The accusations against her are linked to the voluntary testimony that Soliman gave on 24 January 2015 at the Office of the Public Prosecutor, denouncing the violent dispersal of a protest during which human rights defender Ms Shaimaa Al Sabbagh was killed. The protest was organised by the Popular Alliance Party in central Cairo to commemorate the fourth anniversary of the 25 January revolution, and although she did not participate in the protest, Azza Soliman witnessed the dispersal of the protest, as well as the shooting. Upon finishing her testimony, the human rights defender was interrogated by the prosecutor who later informed her she was under investigation for charges relating to unauthorised protests and breach of security and public order.

Ms Soliman was one of the Egyptian HRDs featured in the recent Multiple Exposure video on the targeting of Egyptian civil society:

The Misdemeanour Court of Qasr al-Nile acquitted the human rights defender and her 16 fellow members of the Socialist Popular Alliance Party on 23 May 2015. Less than three days later, the Qasr al-Nile Prosecution appealed the acquittal. The appeal will be heard on 13 June 2015.

3 April 2015
Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition urges Egyptian authorities to drop charges against Azza Soliman

The Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition, to which Front Line Defenders is a member, issued a statement on 3 April 2015 about the ongoing persecution of lawyer and and WHRD Azza Soliman in Egypt.

Azza Soliman is a prominent lawyer and women's rights defender. She is the founder of the Center for Women's Legal Assistance (CEWLA) and is currently serving as its board of trustees. CEWLA is a feminist organisation that campaigns to promote gender equality, focusing in particular on legislative reform and awareness-raising.

On 4 April 2015, Soliman will face trial before the Abdeen Misdemeanour Court on charges including unauthorised protests and breach of security and public order. The human rights lawyer was a witness to a murder of activist Shaimaa ElSabbagh, who was killed while peacefully protesting on 24 January 2015.

Two months later, the Qasr El Nile Prosecution Office in Cairo changed Ms Soliman’s status from being a witness to the killing of Shaimaa ElSabbagh to a defendant, accused of protesting illegally.

Read the full text of the WHRDIC statement below:

The Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition is alarmed that the Prosecutor General at the Qasr El Nile Prosecution Office in Cairo has rejected appeals for lawyer and woman human rights defender Azza Soliman to be listed as a witness rather than a defendant in the case of Shaimaa ElSabbagh, who was killed while peacefully protesting on January 24 2015.

Ms Soliman witnessed the killing of Shaimaa ElSabbagh because she happened to be in a restaurant located across the street from the incident. She voluntarily gave her testimony at the Prosecution office on the night of January 24, 2015 pointing responsibility of the police for the death of Shaimaa ElSabbagh.

On March 23 2015, the Qasr El Nile Prosecution Office in Cairo changed Ms Soliman’s status from being a witness to the killing of Shaimaa ElSabbagh to a defendant being accused of protesting illegally and breaching public order and security under the Protest Law #107 of 2013.

The accusation reflects the continuing security crackdown on human rights defenders. In addition to Ms Soliman, Nagwa Abbass and 15 members of the member of the Socialist Popular Alliance Party who witnessed the killing of Ms ElSabbagh have been charged with unauthorized protesting, and breach of security and public order.

The first session is scheduled for Saturday, April 4, 2015 and will be taking place at Abdeen Misdemeanour Court.

25 March 2015
Judicial harassment of human rights defender Ms Azza Soliman

On 23 March 2015, legal representatives of human rights defender Ms Azza Soliman obtained information on the formal charges being brought against her. On 4 April 2015, Azza Soliman will face trial before the Abdeen Misdemeanour Court on charges including unauthorised protests and breach of security and public order.

Ms Soliman was one of the Egyptian HRDs featured in the recent Multiple Exposure video on the targeting of Egyptian civil society: