Ashraf El-Ashmawy, the judge assigned to investigate the illegal foreign funding of NGOs operating in Egypt, has expressed feelings of "humiliation and injustice" after the decision by Egyptian authorities last week to abruptly lift a travel ban on foreign nationals charged in case, which allowed the latter to depart the country last Thursday.
In statements to pan-Arab daily Asharq Al-Awsat on Sunday, El-Ashmawy stressed that he had not been subject to any kind of pressure during his work on the controversial case.
“The decision to let them to leave the country was illegal,” the judge was quoted as saying. He went on to assert that the decision had effectively allowed indicted suspects “to escape.”
El-Ashamawy also noted that, according to Egyptian law, only judges were allowed to lift travel bans on indicted individuals.
“What's more, it’s unfair to prosecute the Egyptian defendants in the case while allowing the foreigners to leave the country scot-free,” El-Ashamawy told the newspaper. He added that the absconded foreign NGO workers faced charges in Egypt of receiving illegal foreign funding and operating in the country without government permission – crimes, he noted, which carried a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
In a surprise twist Thursday evening, Egyptian authorities allowed 16 foreign defendants in the case – including 13 Americans and two Germans – to depart Egypt for the US.
A new panel of judges has been appointed to investigate the charges after the previous three-judge panel withdrew from the case last week citing “reasons of discomfort.”
The first hearing in the illegal funding of the NGOs trial has been scheduled for 8 March.