An Egyptian court has convicted 43 non-governmental organisation (NGO) workers, including at least 16 Americans, of illegally using foreign funds to foment unrest in the country, sentencing them to up to five years in jail.
Tuesday’s verdict also ordered the closure and seizure of the offices and assets in Egypt belonging to US non-profit groups for which many of the defendants worked, including the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute and Freedom House.
Most of the Americans had left the country. They include Sam LaHood, son of the US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. He received a five-year jail term.
Of the 43 defendants, 27 received five-year jail terms. Another five received two years and 11 got one year. Defendants tried in absentia typically are convicted and receive the maximum sentence but also get an automatic retrial.
The case began in early 2012 during the nearly 17 months of military rule that followed the ouster in the previous year of US ally Hosni Mubarak.
The case led to a period of tension in US-Egyptian relations, with Washington warning that, unless resolved, the case could lead to the loss of American aid.
Last week, the New York-based Human Rights Watch and 40 Egyptian rights groups said an Egyptian draft law regulating non-governmental organisations would restrict the funding and operation of independent groups.
The contentious bill, proposed by President Mohammed Morsi and currently under debate by the country’s interim legislature, would allow the state to control nonprofits’ activities as well as their domestic and international funding, HRW said.
The current form of the bill is a serious regression from earlier versions, it added.