EGYPT: Egyptian court convicts 43 NGO employees

[4 June 2013] -

A court in Cairo has convicted 43 Egyptian and foreign employees of non-governmental (NGO) organisations for working illegally in Egypt.

The court sentenced the defendants - most of them in absentia - to jail terms of up to five years.

It also ordered the closure of offices and the seizure of assets in Egypt belonging to several US NGOs.

The case - which began in 2012 - has strained relations between Cairo and Washington.

US officials had threatened to cut off the roughly $1.5bn (£980m) in aid paid to Egypt every year.

On Tuesday, the Cairo court sentenced 27 defendants to five years in prison. Another five received two years and 11 were given one-year terms.

Only five defendants, including one American national, were present in court.

Most foreign defendants - nationals of the US, Germany, Serbia and Arab states - were able to leave the country last year after the authorities had lifted a travel ban against them.

They include Sam LaHood, son of the US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. He received a five-year prison term.

The defendants say they will appeal against the sentences, according to the AFP news agency.

The court in the Egyptian capital also ordered the closure of a number of NGOs operating in Egypt, including the US-based International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI).

Last year - when Egypt was under military rule following the removal of President Hosni Mubarak - police raided the IRI and NDI offices as well as a number of Egyptian NGOs.

The NGOs had been accused of operating without licences and receiving illicit foreign funds - a charge they denied.

Washington has so far made no public comment on the court's decision.

Last week, human rights groups expressed concerns that a draft law backed by Egypt's Islamist President Mohamed Morsi would restrict the funding and activities of NGOs in the country.

Egyptian officials rejected the claim as groundless.



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