Cairo – A court in Egypt has acquitted eight persons, including a US-Egyptian citizen Aya Hijazi, after nearly three years of detention over accusations related to kidnapping children, sexually abusing them and using them in protests.
The verdict came just under two weeks after Egypt’s President Abdul Fattah el-Sisi visited Washington and was praised by US President Donald Trump, who said, “He’s done a fantastic job in a very difficult situation.”
Trump did not publicly mention the case when he welcomed Sisi to the White House, but a senior White House official had said ahead of the meeting that the case would be addressed.
In May 2014, Egyptian authorities arrested the defendants on charges of abusing children and engaging in human trafficking, kidnapping, using children for protests, sexual exploitation and torture. Authorities said that the defendants held the children in the offices of the Belady Foundation, a charity co-founded in 2013 by Hijazi and her husband Mohamed Hassanein.
Police announced that they had arrested four individuals for sexually assaulting up to 18 children and recruiting them to protest against the government.
The alleged claims have been denied by the arrested individuals who also included: Mohamed Hassanein, Sharif Talaat, Amira Kassem, Ibrahim al-Salhi, Kareem Fathy, Mohamed al-Sayed, and Zeinab Abdul Moeti.
All had faced life in prison over the charges.
In September 2014, former Prosecutor General, Hisham Muhammad Zaki Barakat referred the case to the higher court.
The prosecution leveled seven primary charges against the defendants. According to the referral order, these charges included: establishing and operating a criminal group with the purpose of human trafficking; sexually assaulting children using force, violence, threat, kidnapping, fraud, and deception against 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 sexual abuse.
Former US President Barack Obama and Trump were following the case and the arrest of founder Hijazi.
President Sisi made it clear in his interview with Fox News Channel that he does not interfere in the judiciary. He said that his administration operates within its legal bounds to protect national security and stability.
Local human rights groups said the charges were fabricated and part of a crackdown by Egypt’s government on civil society groups. Up to 25 Egyptian NGOs and human rights organizations had been calling on their release, including the Egyptian Coalition for Children’s Rights, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, and the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information.
The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) issued the report signed by the 25 NGOs. The organizations collectively condemned the “continued suppression of volunteer action and the quashing of youth and civil society initiatives.”