An Egyptian court has acquitted an Egyptian-American woman and seven others, after nearly three years of detention on human trafficking charges related to her foundation that helped Cairo’s street children.
Chief defendant Aya Hijazi, her husband and six others had been in custody since May 2014, when Cairo police raided her foundation without a judicial warrant, confiscating laptop computers and other equipment.
The seven were charged with human trafficking, the sexual exploitation of children, and using children in anti-government protests. The arrests sparked an outcry from activist groups that claimed the charges were fabricated and part of a government crackdown on civil society.
Ahead of Sunday’s acquittal, court proceedings had been delayed multiple times on what human rights groups say were absurd pretexts, like the inability to turn on a computer at a court hearing.
A senior official with the international organization Human Rights Watch last month called the case against Hijazi and her co-defendants “nothing less than a travesty of justice.” HRW’s Joe Stork also protested that defendants had been prevented from meeting privately with lawyers and had been repeatedly denied release on bail.
Several U.S. congressmen and former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton had also called for Hijazi’s release.
Sunday’s acquittals came two weeks after Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi met in Washington with U.S. President Donald Trump.
It is unclear what, if any, role that visit played in the acquittal decision. But ahead of that meeting, sources in the Trump administration said Hijazi’s detention was being monitored closely by U.S. officials.