Wednesday, June 5, 2013
The Washington Post reports that an Egyptian court has imposed prison sentences on 43 nonprofit workers, including 16 Americans (one of whom is the son of the United States Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood). Only 11 (all of whom are Egyptian) received suspended sentences; the rest, including the Americans, were ordered to serve real jail time. None of the American defendants are now in the country, although one stayed until the verdict was issued, according to the story. The verdict, says the Post, “also ordered the closure of the offices and seizure of the assets in Egypt belonging to the U.S. nonprofit groups and a German organization for which many of the defendants worked.” These nonprofits include the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute, Freedom House, and Konrad Adenauer Foundation.
What did these groups do that the Egyptian court found so objectionable? The Post reports that the nonprofit groups were engaged in democracy training. They were alleged to have fostered protests in 2011 against the military following Hosni Mubarak’s departure. Secretary of State John Kerry and several U.S. Senators reportedly have denounced the verdict as politically motivated and inconsistent with Egypt’s movement towards democracy.
Concern over the treatment of nonprofits in Egypt is apparently very high. The Post explains that President Mohamed Morsi “has proposed a controversial bill regulating NGOs, soon to be debated by the interim, Islamist-dominated parliament,” which “would allow the state to control nonprofits’ activities as well as their domestic and international funding,” according to Human Rights Watch. The story continues:
In a joint statement last week, 40 Egyptian rights groups accused Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and its political arm of seeking to curb the freedom of rights groups through legal restrictions. They said the proposed law potentially gives Egypt’s security apparatus the power to suppress rights group[s], drawing parallels to Egypt’s recent past under Mubarak’s 29-year rule.
These human rights organizations also are reported to have “expressed fears that foreign nonprofits would be treated with hostility and that vaguely worded legislation would hinder operations or the issuance of work permits.”