Belady Founders Released From Detention
Egyptian Children’s Aid Activist Aya Hijazi Released After Three Years of Arbitrary Detention
Aya Hijazi and Mohamed Hassanein founded the Belady Foundation with the goal of aiding and educating Cairo’s street children—whom Aya referred to as “awlad beladi,” meaning “the children of my country.” In 2014, Egyptian police with no judicial warrant stormed into the foundation’s headquarters and detained Aya, Mohamed, four other Belady aid volunteers, and all of the children present.
Aya, Mohamed, and the other Belady volunteers were charged with human trafficking, sexual exploitation of children, using children in anti-government protests, and operating an unlicensed organization. They were arbitrarily detained for three years—surpassing Egypt’s two-year pretrial detention limit—and denied access to their lawyers as a trial was delayed again and again. Under President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, who took power following a military coup in 2013, the Egyptian state has engaged in an endless string of human rights violations. Nongovernmental human rights organizations like Belady that receive foreign funding have been a target, with the state framing them as dangerous, destabilizing forces to the country.
When the case finally went to trial, Aya, Mohamed, and the others were not allowed to meet privately with their lawyers. The entire trial was held in closed chambers, and defense requests to cross-examine prosecution were consistently denied. Evidence of the alleged crimes was virtually nonexistent throughout the trial, and one of the children testified that he was beaten by police with the goal of coercing him to accuse Belady volunteers of abuse. Three years after being detained, Aya, Mohamed, and the six other Belady volunteers were acquitted and released.
“This is a day of celebration for Aya Hijazi, Mohamed Hassanein, and the volunteers of the Belady Foundation,” said Kerry Kennedy, president of RFK Human Rights, upon their release. “Their strength through adversity serves as a model for all who seek to make our world just and peaceful. Aya and Mohamed stood up for ideals, acted to improve the lot of others, and sent forth ripples of hope.”
Why is This a Key Case?
Since taking power in 2013, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has created an authoritarian state that regularly deploys a brutal security force to arbitrarily detain, torture, and extrajudicially execute human rights group members, political threats, and ordinary citizens who express even the slightest dissent. The al-Sisi regime’s sweep has even extended to hundreds of Egyptian children who had engaged in protest, executing at least one and detaining the rest in subhuman conditions that created a severe risk of radicalization, as detailed in a report released by Belady in 2020.
How Did RFK Human Rights Support Aya and Mohamed’s Case?
On May 20, 2016, the organization submitted an urgent action and a petition to the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention calling for Aya and Mohamed’s immediate release and for the Egyptian government to hold accountable all persons responsible for the unlawful arrest, continued detention, and mistreatment that Aya and Mohamed endured while in detention. The Working Group has not yet issued a decision.
What is the Status of the Case?
On April 16, 2017, Aya, Mohamed, and the others were acquitted and released days later after intervention and advocacy by RFK Human Rights.
Name of the case (as it appears in the respective legal mechanism)
Aya Mohamed Nabeel Ahmed Hijazi (also known as Aya Mohamed Nabeel Ahmed Hegazy), Mohamed Hassanein Mostafa Fathallah v. Government of the Arab Republic of Egypt
Month/Year of filing
Legal mechanism in which the case is being litigated
United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention
Rights and legal instruments alleged violated
The detention of Aya and Mohamed was alleged to constitute an arbitrary deprivation of their liberty under Category I, Category II, Category III, and Category V as set forth by the Working Group.
The detention was alleged to be arbitrary under Category I for the violation of rights recognized under Articles 54 and 75 of the Egyptian Constitution; Article 6 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights; and Articles 9, 9(3), 10, and 11 of the ICCPR.
The detention was alleged to be arbitrary under Category II for the violation of Article 20(1) of the UDHR; Article 22(1) of the ICCPR; and Article 75 of the Egyptian Constitution.
The detention was alleged to be arbitrary under Category III for the violation of Articles 7, 9(1), 9(2), 9(3), 9(4), 10(1), 10(2)(a), 14(1), 14(2), 14(3)(a), 14(3)(b), 14(3)(c) of the ICCPR; Principles 1, 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 11(1), 11(3), 13, and 36 of the Body of Principles; Articles 5 and 11(1) of the UDHR; Articles 51, 52, 54, 55, and 96 of the Egyptian Constitution; and Articles 1-2 and 4-7 of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
The detention was alleged to be arbitrary under Category V for the violation of Articles 7 and 26 of the ICCPR and Article 54 of the Egyptian Constitution.
Aya and Mohamed have since been released from detention. A decision is pending from the Working Group.