Aya Hijazi never planned to spend three years sitting in an Egyptian prison awaiting trial. On April 16, an Egyptian judge finally ended her unjust and pointless political imprisonment.
Hijazi and her husband, Mohammed Hassanein, declined a formal wedding. Instead, they used their wedding fund to launch the Belady Foundation in Cairo, a nonprofit designed to aid the impoverished street children of urban Egypt. A dual American-Egyptian citizen and George Mason University graduate, Hijazi went to Egypt to help save lives.
A warrantless raid by Egyptian police turned her dream into a nightmare. Dragged from the Belady Foundation offices, Hijazi ended up in an Egyptian jail cell, where four months passed before she was even made aware of the formal charges that falsely accused the Belady Foundation of sexually assaulting street children.
Hijazi brought the best of her American education and values to Egypt in an attempt to make the world a better place.
The government’s case fell apart almost immediately. An official forensics report commissioned by Egyptian prosecutors found no evidence of a crime, and the prosecution failed to present a single witness to any wrongdoing. In the absence of a case and facing growing international anger, the Egyptian government began a long string of delay tactics, delaying the hearing date seven times over three years. Hijazi and her husband remained in jail.
Hijazi brought the best of her American education and values to Egypt in an attempt to make the world a better place. She faced the same political repression many defenders of human rights face. Her vindication is proof that even small efforts to improve our world can create ripples that shake even the most entrenched authoritarian governments.
Humanitarian groups, members of Congress, the Obama Administration and the Trump Administration worked to free Hijazi from her political imprisonment. The process, dogged by political problems and foreign setbacks, at times seemed hopeless. Today’s decision is a credit to those who never lost that hope.
The Hijazi family maintained their commitment to fighting for justice. Now, that hope has finally been rewarded.
Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights joined Hijazi’s brother, Basel, on a recent trip to Washington. Over several days, Basel Hijazi lobbied members of Congress to raise alarm about his sister’s dangerous situation. Democrats and Republicans who heard Basel’s story and vowed action should be commended. Their outrage exemplifies our commitment to the American values of free expression and the rule of law.
We struggle to imagine the fear and suffering Aya Hijazi’s family has faced over the past three years. Through trial delays, isolation and fear of reprisals, the Hijazi family maintained their commitment to fighting for justice. Their optimism held strong even in the darkest moments of Hijazi’s case. Now, that hope has finally been rewarded.
The April 16 decision reaffirms to the world the United States’ commitment to free expression and participation in civic life. Such a turn of events would have been impossible without the active engagement of policymakers and the activists who spurred their resolve.
It also reminds us that there are many more cases like Aya Hijazi around the world, and we must not rest in our campaigns for their freedom. Authoritarian governments view apathy as opportunity. If the chorus of voices calling for justice under law fades, those governments will continue to act with impunity towards vulnerable activists. Complacency is not an option.
Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights will continue to fight for those like Aya Hijazi, whose only crime was the pursuit of a better life for poor children in Cairo. But today, with Hijazi finally, mercifully free, our thoughts are with her family. After three long years, the Hijazis will be whole again.
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