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Egypt NGO verdicts 'politically motivated', say critics

Lawyer says jail sentences imposed on NGO workers are aimed at pleasing public opinion; rights groups say they are intended to silence independent voices

Ayat Al-Tawy, Salma Shukrallah, Tuesday 4 Jun 2013
egypt
Friends of Egyptian suspects react as they listen to the judge's verdict at a court room during a case against foreign non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Cairo June 4, 2013 (Photo: Reuters)
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Jail sentences passed against 43 NGO workers on Tuesday are principally aimed at "pleasing public opinion and endorsing anti-American and anti-Western sentiment," a lawyer for some of the defendants has claimed.

Sarwat Abdel-Shahid, a lawyer for the National Democratic Institute (NDI), a US NGO which had 15 employees on trial, said the verdict discriminated against foreigners because Egyptian defendants received one-year suspended sentences, while foreigners, who had joined the organisation on the same day as their Egyptian colleagues and had the same legal status, received two-year sentences.

The verdict is far from serving Egyptian society, Abdel-Shahid added.

NDI's Robert Becker, the only American defendant to stay in Egypt until the trial, stated via his blog on Monday that, "I was told it would be best for me to go home, so that is exactly where I will be… home, in Cairo."

"We put our faith in the judges and their independence from politics to look solely at the evidence and rule accordingly," Becker added.

"[Becker's] stance should have been appreciated by the Egyptian judiciary," Abdel-Shahid said. "He refused to flee the country; he faced the situation and opted to defend himself."

Abdel-Shahid was also angered by the sentences handed to the Egyptian NGO workers.

Regarding the accusation that the defendants worked for unregistered organisations, Abdel-Shahid said employees are not expected to ask their employers for evidence of their legal status.

The convictions will have a damaging affect on the future of "those young, aspiring people who had no criminal intentions," he added.

Abdel-Shahid said he would appeal against the verdict:

"I'm certain the [appeal] court will overturn the verdicts as it does with all other politically oriented rulings."

Freedom House employee Sherif Mansour, an Egyptian-American sentenced to two years in jail, said via Twitter that he would appeal against the sentence:

“Obviously we will fight this, as we started, and to the end. All on trial will be acquitted."

In comments on Twitter, Freedom House director Nancy Okeil expressed anger that she had been "sentenced to 5 years in prison for working on democracy & human rights while killers of protesters were acquitted.”

The Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) condemned the verdict as "trumped up by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and several Mubarak-era figures.”

[The trial] was part of a SCAF-spearheaded campaign against NGOs that revealed [rights] violations against activists opposed to military rule [during the transition period],” ANHRI said in statement.

NGOs will continue their work despite attempts by the authorities to impose tight control on their work via the new Muslim Brotherhood-inspired NGO law or attempts to terrorise rights activists via criminal prosecutions, the statement added.

USAID's Christine Giallongo told Ahram Online that the US State Department would issue a statement on the matter later today.

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