Washington - US Secretary of State John Kerry voiced concern
Tuesday about the sentences handed down by a Cairo court on 43 Egyptian and
foreign NGO workers, denouncing it as a "politically-motivated"
"This decision runs contrary to the universal principle
of freedom of association and is incompatible with the transition to
democracy," Kerry said in a statement after the court ordered jail terms
of one to five years.
"The United States is deeply concerned by the guilty
verdicts and sentences, including the suspended sentences, handed down by an
Egyptian court today against 43 NGO representatives in what was a
The workers were put on trial after a series of 2011 raids
on the offices of foreign NGOs, many which had operated without licenses under
ousted president Hosni Mubarak, but which the new authorities deemed had
received illicit funds.
Among the defendants were 16 Americans, the State Department
confirmed, adding that it had raised their cases at the highest levels of the
Egyptian government following Tuesday's verdicts and sentences.
The criminal court sentenced 27 defendants in absentia to
Five defendants who were present in the country, including
one American, were sentenced to two years behind bars and each was ordered to
pay fines of 1 000 Egyptian pounds (almost $145).
The remaining 11 were given one-year suspended sentences.
The decision to close the offices of the non-governmental
organizations "contradicts the government of Egypt's commitments to
support the role of civil society as a fundamental actor in a democracy,"
Regional security concerns
"Civic groups and international NGOs play a legitimate
role in any democracy and are critical to advancing freedoms... and acting as
appropriate checks on the government," the top US diplomat insisted in his
"I urge the government of Egypt to work with civic
groups as they respond to the Egyptian people's aspirations for democracy as
guaranteed in Egypt's new constitution."
The crackdown on the NGOs led to a crisis in relations
between Cairo and Washington, which Egypt tried to defuse by allowing some
activists to leave the country, including Sam LaHood, the son of US transport
secretary Ray LaHood.
US media reports said LaHood was among those given a
suspended five-year sentence, while Freedom House Egypt director Nancy Okail
said in a statement that she had received a similar term.
It was not immediately clear whether the sentencing would affect
US aid to Egypt, although State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said some of
the funding went towards the work that "needs to be done on their
"Our assistance to Egypt reflects mutual interest in
addressing regional security concerns that have helped maintain peace and
security in the region for 30 years," she told reporters.
"We believe that the Egyptian people deserve the
benefit of a lot of these programmes and a lot of these aid efforts that we
have provided to date."
In March Kerry pledged $250m out of $450m in extra US aid
would be released to help the country's dilapidated economy. But he suggested
the rest would be contingent on Cairo's progress in negotiating an IMF loan.
In a joint statement, three leading Republican senators
warned that if Tuesday's ruling is not overturned it would have
"significant negative implications on US-Egypt relations."
Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte called
on Congress to "conduct a comprehensive review of US assistance to
It is "increasingly impossible to argue that the
Egyptian government is safeguarding and advancing the democratic values that
inspired the Egyptian revolution of 2011", they added.