Tuesday,23 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1389, (12 - 18 April 2018)
Tuesday,23 April, 2019
Issue 1389, (12 - 18 April 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Retrial of NGO workers

The retrial of 16 NGO employees accused of obtaining illegal foreign funding has been welcomed by the human rights community, writes Gamal Essam El-Din

Retrial of  NGO  workers
Retrial of NGO workers

On 5 April the Court of Cassation — Egypt’s highest judicial authority — overturned prison sentences passed against 16 NGO employees and ordered their retrial in a case that has been a cause of tension between Egypt on the one hand, and the United States and Western European countries, particularly Germany on the other.

The court also overturned a two-year sentence against Christine Margaret, a senior accountant with Germany’s Konrad Adenauer Foundation.

The court rejected appeals filed by another five defendants on the grounds that they had not appeared before judges during the implementation of the 2013 verdict. They include Robert Fredrick Baker, political party trainer with Egypt’s National Democratic Institute; Yehia Ghanem, manager of the local branch of the International Centre for Journalists; Al-Sherif Ahmed Sobhi, the Egyptian-American manager of Freedom House’s programmes in Egypt and Mohamed Ahmed Abdel-Aziz, Freedom House’s coordinator of programmes in Egypt. 

In June 2013 a Cairo Criminal Court sentenced 43 Americans, Europeans, Egyptians and Arabs to prison terms ranging from one to five years after they were found guilty of illegally obtaining foreign funding and operating in Egypt without the required permits. Twenty-seven defendants tried in absentia received five-year sentences, five received two-year sentences and fines of LE1,000 and 11 were sentenced for a year.

The court ruling noted that the defendants had obtained $60 million “via 68 unlicensed human rights and civil society organisations in violation of the sovereignty of the state”.

Hafez Abu Seada, head of the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights (EOHR), said the Cassation Court’s verdict was a progressive step. In a public statement he called upon government officials to reconsider the country’s new NGOs law in order to allow NGOs to operate with more freedom in Egypt.

Abu Seada said the EOHR will closely follow developments in the NGO case which first opened in 2011. “We are demanding the case be closed once and for all given that the initial trials and now the retrials violate international human rights conventions to which Egypt is a signatory.”

In 2013, prosecutors accused the unlicensed NGOs of training people in the organisation of street protests and sit-ins, the funding of election campaigns and “how to prepare reports on human rights conditions in Egypt to be sent to the United States”.

The court ordered the closure of the offices of five foreign NGOs — the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute, Freedom House, the International Centre for Journalists and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation.

Most foreign defendants were able to leave the country after pressure from then US president Barack Obama’s administration and influential US Congress members, including former presidential candidate and senator John McCain.

When what came to be known as the foreign funding case opened in 2011, US Senator John McCain visited Cairo and threatened retaliation were American defendants not allowed to leave the country. More recently, the US media said McCain pressed hard last year for $100 million in US aid to be withheld over concerns about human rights in Egypt.

When President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi visited Germany in 2016 he held discussions with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the future of German NGOs operating in Egypt.

In 2016 prosecutors ordered the closure of more NGOs, including the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies and the Nadeem Centre for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence.

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