Egypt: Unjust Verdict in Rights Workers’ Trial – Pardon Convicted Employees, Amend Law Regulating Independent Groups

The Cairo Criminal Court’s conviction of 43 nongovernmental organization (NGO) workers on June 4, 2013, violates the right to freedom of association. The convictions are based on a repressive law governing organizations as well as penal code provisions that are not compatible with respect for fundamental rights…


… The Egyptian president could address the violations of human rights raised by the investigation and trial in this case by pardoning those convicted, and amending the proposed new law regulating independent groups to bring it in line with international standards, Human Rights Watch said.


“These are unjust convictions based on an unjust law,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “These workers for independent organizations should never have been charged in the first place. What’s particularly disheartening is that the new draft NGO law the Morsy government has proposed reflects the same suspicion of independent organizations that was the driving force behind the trial.”


The convictions violate basic internationally protected rights and the rule of law, Human Rights Watch said. The workers for these nongovernmental organizations have paid the price of a political disagreement between the Egyptian and US governments…


… Those sentenced to two years are: Egyptian nationals Yehia Ghanem, Sherif Mansour, and Mohamed Abdelaziz; Robert Becker of the US; and Christine Baade of Germany. In addition, 27 defendants were tried in absentia and the court sentenced them to five years, an automatic conviction because they were not present during the trial…


… The convicted workers may appeal the conviction before the Court of Cassation on the grounds that there has been an error in law, and seek a retrial. The president also has a discretionary power under the constitution and the code of criminal procedure to issue a pardon…


… Under international law, membership of an unrecognized association cannot in and of itself amount to a crime. The one limitation is if the association openly calls for violence. The wording of article 98 of the penal code is particularly broad and includes language that criminalizes legitimate nonviolent political activity and organizing. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Egypt has ratified, prohibits broadly worded bans on nonviolent political activity…


… “If President Morsy wishes to distance himself from the legacy of this politically motivated trial, he should amend the new draft NGO law in line with international standards instead of pushing through a law which would allow the government to control and block independent organizations.” Whitson said.

Middle East Voices: INSIGHT: Egypt’s NGO Convictions Demand Assertive Response, by Eric Trager

American Robert Becker, one of the defendants, is seen in a cage during the early days of the NGO trial in Cairo March 8, 2012. (Reuters)

American Robert Becker, one of the defendants, is seen in a cage during the early days of the NGO trial in Cairo March 8, 2012. (Reuters)

… Secretary of State John Kerry rightly expressed concern about yesterday’s rulings, but the conviction of U.S. citizens and closure of American NGOs demand a much more assertive response. In this vein, Washington should condition any future economic aid to Egypt – including support for Cairo’s bid to secure an International Monetary Fund loan – on Morsi pardoning the convicted NGO workers, as he is authorized to do under Egypt’s newly ratified constitution. The administration could make another strong statement by granting the Presidential Citizens Medal to Robert Becker, the former National Democratic Institute employee who bravely refused to abandon his Egyptian colleagues when all other American NGO workers were evacuated in March 2012.


Given Cairo’s current strategic outlook, this approach would likely succeed. Despite its well-documented hostility toward the West, the Brotherhood no doubt hopes to avoid confrontations with Washington so that it can focus on consolidating power at home. Accordingly, an assertive response to the convictions would greatly alarm the group, which has no interest in adding an international crisis to its many domestic crises and would likely respond by trying to appease Washington. Alternatively, if Washington resumes business as usual in the wake of the ruling, the Brotherhood will interpret this as a green light to continue its autocratic drive, and the administration will have missed an important opportunity to moderate the group’s behavior.

Boston Globe: Egypt sentences 43 prodemocracy workers

… The only American defendant who remained in Egypt throughout the trial was Robert Becker, who was sentenced to two years. He left on a flight to Rome just hours after the verdict, according to a Cairo airport official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.


Becker had said he refused to flee with the other Americans before the trial to show solidarity with his Egyptian colleagues.


‘‘I am honored to have stood in a cage for a dozen hearings this past year-and-a-half with my colleagues,’’ Becker, 44, who was not in the courtroom Tuesday, wrote in a blog entry the night before. ‘‘They are my brothers and sisters and personal heroes, and no trial verdict will break that bond.’’

ahramonline: Human Rights Watch denounces Tuesday’s conviction of 43 NGO workers, calls for amendments to draft NGO law

“These are unjust convictions based on an unjust law,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at HRW…

The Herald Scotland: Egypt imprisons 43 democracy workers

… In a case against democracy groups dating from 2011, Judge Makram Awad gave five-year sentences in absentia to at least 15 US citizens who left Egypt last year, and to citizens of Norway, Serbia, Germany and Arab states.


American Robert Becker, a former National Democratic Institute worker who stayed in Egypt, and a German woman were each sentenced to two years in prison…


… Despite the furore over the case, the US released its annual military aid for Egypt in March 2012, saying US national security required continued assistance. The closed groups were training Egyptians in advocacy and voter education.

The Oman Daily Observer: Egypt court convicts all defendants in NGO trial

… German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said he was “shocked and greatly disturbed by the harsh judgments” of the court. Hisham Seif-Eldin, the charge d’affaires at Egypt’s Embassy in Berlin, was summoned to the Foreign Ministry to hear a protest. Emily Haber, a state secretary, told him Germany was upset at the ruling…

International Business Times: 16 American NGO Workers Including Son Of US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood Among 43 Activists Convicted In Egypt

… U.S. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said Washington would take up the issue with Egyptian officials, and added that Cairo “should resolve outstanding issues with the United States on a government to government basis”…

The Times: US and German pro-democracy workers jailed by Egyptian court

al Jazeera: US criticises Egypt sentencing of NGO workers