The European Union said on Thursday in a statement that the decision by an Egyptian court to uphold an asset freeze on two NGOs – the Arab Penal Reform Organisation (APRO) and Nazra for Feminist Studies – “continues a worrying trend” of restricting civil society in Egypt.
A Cairo criminal court upheld on Wednesday an earlier court decision to freeze the assets of Nazra director Mozn Hassan and APRO director Mohamed Zaree over charges that they illegally received foreign funding.
“Human rights defenders and an active civil society play a key role in democratic and economic development, helping build political stability this regard,” an EU spokesperson said in the statement.
“It is essential that human rights defenders and civil society are free to operate in a favourable environment and that all the guarantees stipulated in the Egyptian constitution regarding freedom of expression and association are fully implemented and upheld.”
Hassan and Zaree are among a number of prominent Egyptian human rights activists slammed with asset freezes and travel bans in 2016 pending trial into charges of receiving illegal foreign funding.
A law managing the activities of NGOs was passed last December by Egypt's parliament – yet to be ratified by the president – sparked widespread criticism by human rights activists locally and internationally.
Twenty-two NGOs and six political parties have signed a statement saying that the draft law would “end civil society” by putting it under the control of government and security bodies.
Also, in a statement on wednesday, the United States Departemnt of State said it is "troubled" by the Egyptian court decision.
Egypt has repeatedly described international reports on the country’s human rights record as “biased and politically motivated,” stressing that it rejects comments by international organisations on Egyptian court verdicts.