American aid worker expected to walk free after three years in Egyptian prison

BY    | Updated: Apr 18, 2017 at 4:06 PM
Aya Hijazi and her husband Mohamed Hassanein, founders of Belady, an NGO that promotes a better life for street children, talk inside a holding cell in Cairo, Egypt. Picture taken March 23, 2017. Photo by Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters

Aya Hijazi and her husband Mohamed Hassanein, founders of Belady, an NGO that promotes a better life for street children, talk inside a holding cell in Cairo, Egypt. Picture taken March 23, 2017. Photo by Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters

After three years in detention, an Egyptian-American aid worker named Aya Hijazi is scheduled to walk free tomorrow, along with her husband and six other co-defendants, after being cleared of child abuse and human trafficking charges, her lawyers confirmed today.

The case became emblematic of Egypt’s widespread crackdown on aid groups as well as the country’s Kafkaesque judicial system.

The judge announced their acquittal on Sunday to a packed Cairo courtroom. Applause and cheers could be heard as the verdict was announced.

Hijazi co-founded the Belady Foundation in 2013 with her husband Mohamed Hassanein shortly after graduating from George Mason University. The Cairo-based NGO provided resources and counseling to abandoned or runaway children.

In May 2014, authorities detained Hijazi, Mohammad and six others volunteers with the organization on accusations that they physically and sexually abused these children, and included the children in anti-government protests. They had been held in pre-trial detention ever since.

Throughout the course of their detention, hearings were adjourned before they began over six times. The verdict was originally scheduled for March, just before Egyptian President Abul Fattah el-Sisi’s first meeting with President Donald Trump in Washington.

Government officials, including former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power, had lobbied the Egyptian government for Hijazi’s release through the years. After her acquittal Power tweeted, “At last. Aya’s jailing was outrage. Think about the thousands of jailed Egyptians who aren’t dual Amcitizens & lack donors pushing 4 release.”

“Aya now wants to spend time with her family after three years apart and focus on recovering from her ordeal,” says Wade McMullen, an attorney with the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, a non-profit that has taken on Hijazi’s case.

WATCH: Has justice taken a backseat to civil order in Egypt’s courts?

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