Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, right, meets with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, center, and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, at the Presidential palace in Cairo, Egypt, Wednesday, April 20, 2016. REUTERS/Amr Nabil/Pool(reuters_tickers)
By Ahmed Aboulenein
CAIRO (Reuters) - An Egyptian court postponed on Wednesday the hearing of a high profile human rights group to May, on a day when U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who has raised the issue before, met Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo.
The case centres on whether to uphold an asset freeze on several prominent human rights defenders. The session was postponed at the request of prosecutors, who said they wanted more time to study the case.
Egyptian rights activists say they are facing the worst assault in their history amid a wider campaign to erase the freedoms won in the 2011 uprising that ended Hosni Mubarak's 30-year rule.
"I have been expecting an adjournment because this is a week of many high-level foreign visits and presumably someone within the regime understands the massive cost this trial will have in terms of image," Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) Associate Director Heba Morayef said.
Authorities have revived the case which dates back to 2011 and accuse NGOs of receiving foreign funds to sow chaos.
An investigating magistrate banned EIPR founder Hossam Bahgat and Arab Network for Human Rights Information founder Gamal Eid from travel and froze their assets, a decision Morayef says could extend to their respective NGOs if upheld.
Four NGO workers from three other organisations were added to the case on Wednesday. There was no comment from prosecutors, who banned reporting on the legal details of the case.
Kerry said last month he was deeply concerned by the deterioration in the human rights situation in Egypt, including Egypt's decision to reopen an investigation of NGOs.
"We talked about ways in which we can hopefully resolve some of the differences and questions that have arisen about the internal politics and choices for the people of Egypt," Kerry said on Wednesday after meeting President Sisi.
U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan said last week Egypt's human rights record made it more difficult to support.
International criticism of Egypt, a major U.S. ally, has been recently getting louder.
(Additional reporting by Omar Fahmy; Editing by Michael Georgy; editing by Ralph Boulton)