[JURIST] An Egyptian court on Tuesday convicted 43 foreign and domestic non-governmental organization (NGO) employees of promoting democracy in Egypt without proper documentation and of receiving funds from abroad in violation of Egyptian law. Those convicted include Europeans, Egyptians, other Arabs and at least 16 Americans, 15 of whom were convicted in absentia. The court ordered closure [Reuters report] of the NGOs after meting out fines and prison sentences to employees ranging from one to five years. Affected NGOs include the US-based International Republican Institute (IRI), National Democratic Institute (NDI), Freedom House (FH), the International Center for Journalists and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation [advocacy websites]. The IRI responded to the verdicts [press release], calling the decision "a politically motivated effort to squash Egypt's growing civil society" carried out in part by "Mubarak-era hold overs." The IRI further asserted that it would "pursue all avenues" to challenge the decision, which "raises serious questions" with respect to Egypt's "commitment to the democratic transition" after Egypt's 2011 revolution [JURIST backgrounder]. In addition the NDI expressed [press release] shock and deep distress over the "unjust conviction." The NDI's statement elaborates further on the role of pro-democracy NGOs in Egypt before and after the ruling:
NDI's programs in Egypt included sharing international experiences on democratic transitions, training for the long-term development of political parties, and assistance to civil society organizations engaged in election monitoring, civic education and nonpartisan voter education. At no time has NDI ever funded any political party or movement. The Institute has never sought a particular electoral outcome, and it has never aligned itself with any political party, ideology or candidate. Those wrongfully convicted were ultimately the victims of an intergovernmental dispute between the U.S. and the then-Egyptian government. The Egyptian authorities at the time claimed that the U.S. democracy assistance funds were intended instead for use by them.All affected NGOs expressed their intent to appeal the decision in the near future.
Egypt's crackdown on NGOs has drawn criticism for years, especially with respect to the trial at issue. In May Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi sent a bill [JURIST report] to the country's interim parliament on Monday that would regulate NGOs. In April the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies denounced [JURIST report] draft legislation restricting the financial autonomy of civic associations and NGOs. The trial at issue has been going on since 2011. In February 2012 Egyptian investigative judges referred [JURIST report] to a criminal court in Cairo the cases of the 43 NGO employees. Also in February 2012 a Cairo Criminal Court judge adjourned [JURIST report] the trial of the NGO employees until April following the first day of the trial. During the same time all three judges responsible for adjudicating the criminal prosecution of the NGO employees withdrew [JURIST report] from the case. In March 2012 Egypt appointed new judges [JURIST report] to hear the trial just days after six indicted Americans left the country pursuant to a $5 million bail payment funded by the US.