Egyptian Court Convicts U.S. NGO Workers and Others
An Egyptian criminal court in Cairo convicted 43 nonprofit NGO (non-governmental organizations) workers today, including at least 16 Americans, of illegally receiving foreign funds and operating without a license to incite unrest in the country.
Besides the Americans there were eight other foreigners, of Serbian, Palestinian, Lebanese, and other nationalities, charged with the same crime.
The court sentenced them up to five years in prison, but most of the Americans were sentenced in absentia because they had long left the country. One of the workers who received a 5 year sentence is son of the U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Sam LaHood. Sam is currently in U.S.A.
The only American defendant still in Egypt was Robert Becker, who wrote on his Twitter account after receiving a 2 year sentence that he was reviewing his “appeals options” with his lawyers. Becker has said that he did not leave the country to show solidarity with his Egyptian colleagues.
Becker explained his decision to the Christian Science Monitor in January.
“How dare we preach human rights and democracy? To me [my Egyptian colleagues] are the future of this country and they’re worth fighting for. They had nowhere to run. There was no way I could morally justify hopping on a plane.”
The verdict also required the closure of the NGO offices and seizure of the assets in Egypt belonging to the International Republican Institute, Freedom House, the National Democratic Institute, a center for training journalists, and Germany’s Konrad Adenauer Foundation.
The prosecutor Abdullah Yassin told the court last year that the NGOs activities were an infringement of the sovereignty of the state of Egypt. The groups strongly denied the charges and insisted that their financing is transparent.
The case had generated international outrage, effecting relations between Egypt and the US, and increasing domestic fears over the potential for foreign funding to influence internal political affairs.
There was no immediate comment from the Obama administration on the verdicts, but Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Ed Royce condemned the ruling, saying: “This is another assault on Egyptian civil society. As if these trials were not bad enough, the Egyptian government is pushing a new law targeting NGOs that will further suffocate civil society. President Morsi should immediately reverse course and allow for Egyptian domestic and international NGOs to work toward a democratic and secure Egypt.”
Many NGOs have trained thousands of young Egyptians in political activism and organizing who played a key part in the success of the 2011 uprising that toppled Mubarak.
Egyptian security raided offices of 10 pro-democracy and human rights groups in late December 2011and charged the groups with using illegal funds and promoting protests against the then-ruling military.