A Cairo court has sentenced 43 Egyptian and foreign employees of several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to jail sentences, ranging from one to five years for working illegally, the AFP news agency reported Tuesday.
Judge Makram Awad also ordered the closure of the NGOs, including the U.S.-based International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute, according to AFP.
Five defendants who were present in the country, including one American, were sentenced to two years behind bars while the remaining 11 defendants were given one-year suspended sentences.
These include U.S.-based NGOs Freedom House and the National Democratic Institute, as well as the German Konrad Adenauer Foundation.
The defendants were charged with receiving illicit foreign funds and operating without a license.
The trial began last year following raids of the groups’ offices, which led to a crisis in relations between Egypt and Washington.
Following the raids, seven Americans who worked for these groups flew out of Cairo after being holed-up in the U.S. embassy for weeks.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry voiced concern over the sentences on Tuesday, denouncing it as a “politically-motivated” trial.
“This decision runs contrary to the universal principle of freedom of association and is incompatible with the transition to democracy,” Kerry said in a statement quoted by AFP.
“The United States is deeply concerned by the guilty verdicts and sentences, including the suspended sentences, handed down by an Egyptian court today against 43 NGO representatives in what was a politically-motivated trial,” he added.
Among the defendants were 16 Americans, the State Department confirmed, adding that it had raised their cases at the highest levels of the Egyptian government following Tuesday’s verdicts and sentences.
“Civic groups and international NGOs play a legitimate role in any democracy and are critical to advancing freedoms… and acting as appropriate checks on the government,” the top U.S. diplomat insisted in his sharply-worded statement.
“I urge the government of Egypt to work with civic groups as they respond to the Egyptian people’s aspirations for democracy as guaranteed in Egypt’s new constitution,” he added.
It was not immediately clear whether the sentencing would affect U.S. aid to Egypt, although State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said some of the funding went towards the work that “needs to be done on their democratic transition.
“Our assistance to Egypt reflects mutual interest in addressing regional security concerns that have helped maintain peace and security in the region for 30 years,” she told reporters.
“We believe that the Egyptian people deserve the benefit of a lot of these programs and a lot of these aid efforts that we have provided to date.”
Meanwhile in a joint statement, three leading Republican senators warned that if Tuesday’s ruling is not overturned it would have “significant negative implications on US-Egypt relations.”
Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte called on Congress to “conduct a comprehensive review of U.S. assistance to Egypt.”
It is “increasingly impossible to argue that the Egyptian government is safeguarding and advancing the democratic values that inspired the Egyptian revolution of 2011,” they added.
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