Verdict in egypt: harsh penalties for ngos

Court in Cairo imposes prison sentences on employees of foreign organizations. The Konrad Adenauer Foundation is also affected.

The defendants at the opening of the trial on Feb. 25, 2012. photo: dpa

The Konrad Adenauer Foundation must close its office in Cairo. This was decided by an Egyptian court on Tuesday. The foundation’s office manager, Andreas Jacobs, was sentenced to five years in prison. Christiane Bader, an employee of the CDU-affiliated foundation received two years in prison – both in absentia.

The whole thing is part of the verdict in a case against non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that has been going on for more than a year. A total of 43 NGO employees were sentenced from one to five years. They were accused of illegally transferring money and working without a license. Among those convicted are 16 Americans who worked for U.S. foundations. They now also have to close.

In December 2011, the then-ruling Egyptian military council had initiated a large-scale raid. The offices of 17 organizations were searched, and their foreign employees were banned from leaving the country. The ban was not lifted until March of the following year. All of the accused foreigners left the country.

An attack on civil society

Except for American Robert Becker, who worked for the National Democratic Institute (NDI), a U.S. Democratic foundation. Becker had refused to leave the country in solidarity with his accused Egyptian co-workers. As a result, he was fired by his employer and now sentenced to two years in prison, the only foreigner in attendance.

"The ruling confirms the current climate in Egypt, which does not allow work for civil rights," said Tarek Zaghloul, deputy director of the Egyptian Human Rights Organization. "There is an attempt to limit independent work and erase the role of civil society," he added.

"Even when the process started a year and a half ago under the Supreme Military Council, it was a purely political process, it was never really about issues of management, registration and funding, but about controlling the work of NGOs," believes lawyer Ragia Omran.

A new NGO law is planned

She sees the ruling in the context of a new restrictive NGO law currently under discussion in Egypt. "The verdict is a warning to civil society, which is seen as a threat not only by the old regime but also by the new government," she tells the taz.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle describes the actions of the Egyptian judiciary as "worrying." He said it weakens civil society as an important pillar of democracy in a new democratic Egypt. "We will support the Adenauer Foundation in ensuring that these sentences are overturned," he said.

Lawyers want to appeal

Lawyers for the convicted NGO workers have already announced they will appeal. Judge Makram Awad stated on Egyptian state television after the verdict that he intends to lobby Interpol for an arrest warrant against the convicted foreigners who were not present.

This is not likely to improve U.S.-Egyptian relations. One of those sentenced to five years in absentia, is the son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *