Activists say Egypt's crackdown on human rights groups is a wider campaign to erase freedoms and silence civil society
An Egyptian court on Saturday froze assets of five prominent human rights defenders and three non-governmental organisations.
There has been a renewed interest in the five-year-old case that alleged the NGOs received foreign funds to sow chaos and destabilise the country.
The trial has threatened a diplomatic crisis between Washington and Cairo.
An investigating magistrate had ordered the asset freezes in February, but they were subject to court approval.
"We know from the start the case is political and the aim is revenge against NGOs that expose the state's abuses," said Gamal Eid, founder and director of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information whose assets were frozen.
Rights groups say it is a wider campaign to silence human rights activism.
European Union External Action Service criticised the decision, "The increased pressure on independent Egyptian civil society, in particular human rights organisations and defenders, is not in line with Egypt's commitments to promote and respect human rights and fundamental freedoms as guaranteed by its Constitution."
The court's decision is a "reprehensible blow to Egypt's human rights movement", the London-based Amnesty International said in a statement.
New York-based Human Rights Watch also deplored the decision.
"Egyptian authorities are single-mindedly pushing for the elimination of the country's most prominent independent human rights defenders," it quoted its Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson.
This decision paves the way for criminal proceedings against the defendants that could also lead to life sentences.
(WION with inputs from agencies)