American aid worker acquitted in Egypt after three years in jail

Published April 17th, 2017 - 07:00 GMT
American aid worker Aya Hijazi at her trial in Cairo, Egypt, 16 April 2017 (AFP/Mohamed el-Shahed)
American aid worker Aya Hijazi at her trial in Cairo, Egypt, 16 April 2017 (AFP/Mohamed el-Shahed)

An Egyptian court on Sunday acquitted a US-Egyptian charity worker accused of human trafficking and sexually abusing children, in a case that drew alarm from Washington and international rights groups.

The court found Aya Hijazi, 29, her husband and six others not guilty, an AFP correspondent said, after three years in pre-trial detention.

Hijazi was running a foundation called Belady, dedicated to helping street children, when she and her husband, Mohammed Hassanein, were arrested in May 2014.

Egyptian authorities accused Hijazi of abusing children in her care and engaging in human trafficking, kidnapping, sexual exploitation, torture and inciting street children to join pro-Muslim Brotherhood protests.

Hjazi was not a prominent political activist, but her arrest came as President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi was crushing political dissent a year on from his military coup.

Last year, a group of Egyptian NGOs condemned Hijazi's detention, and the regime's practice of continued pre-trial detention.

Human Rights Watch alleged Hijazi and her co-defendants had been denied private meetings with lawyers and were being held in "arbitrary detention." 

A senior associate with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said the case was fabricated and "100 percent political," PBS reported.

The US-Egyptian dual national grew up in Falls Church, Virginia and received a degree in conflict resolution from George Mason University in 2009, before returning to Egypt.

US congressmen for Virginia Don Beyer said last year that Aya "should be praised as a hero, someone who has championed the neglected."

Her sister, Alaa Hijazi, has long called the charges against her sister "absolutely absurd and unfounded."

"The charges only make sense in the context of the Egyptian government's campaign against intellectuals, academics and others that it deems a threat to its authority," she told The Associated Press last year.

Egypt has long rejected calls from the White House to release Hijazi. It is unclear if her case was raised directly with Sisi during his recent US meeting with Donald Trump.

Her detention, together with her husband, has attracted widespread attention online.

Between 40,000 and 60,000 political prisoners have been jailed in Egypt since Abdel Fattah al-Sisi came to power in a military coup.

Copyright @ 2022 The New Arab.

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