An Egyptian court has convicted forty-three nonprofits workers, including at least sixteen Americans, of illegally using foreign funds to foment unrest in the country and sentenced them to up to five years in prison, the Associated Press reports.
Twenty-seven of the defendants received five-year jail terms, five received two-year terms, while eleven — all Egyptians — received suspended one-year sentences. Aside from Robert Becker, who remained in Egypt and was sentenced to two years, the other Americans were sentenced in absentia; the group includes Sam LaHood, son of the U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who received a five-year jail term. According to the AP, defendants tried in absentia in Egyptian courts typically are convicted and receive the maximum sentence allowable for a specific charge, although if they return to the country and give themselves up, they receive an automatic retrial.
Accused of undermining Egyptian sovereignty by operating unlicensed nonprofit organizations, accepting unauthorized foreign financing, sending reports to foreign countries, and training political parties, the defendants in the case have been depicted in Egyptian media as CIA collaborators intent on destabilizing the country. The trial began in early 2012, following the 2011 ouster of longtime Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. Last week, Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi proposed legislation that would allow the state to sharply restrict the activities and funding of nongovernmental organizations in the country.
"As if these trials were not bad enough, the Egyptian government is pushing a new law targeting NGOs that will further suffocate civil society," said Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, in a statement to the AP. "President Morsi should immediately reverse course and allow for Egyptian domestic and international NGOs to work toward a democratic and secure Egypt."