11 24 2014
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(CNN) -- An Egyptian court sentenced several dozen workers for non-governmental organizations, including Americans, to jail Tuesday in a case that has infuriated the U.S. government and democratic activists around the world.

The workers were accused of having illegal foreign funding. They denied any wrongdoing.

All but one of the Americans were sentenced in absentia, having left the country after posting $132,000 each in bail money.

In all, 43 NGO workers, including several Americans and other foreigners, were charged. The court sentenced 27 NGO workers in absentia to five-year sentences; 11 defendants to one-year suspended jail sentences; and five others to two-year sentences that were not suspended, the state-run Al Ahram newspaper reported.

The court also ordered the closure of four NGOs -- the U.S.-based Freedom House, the International Democratic Institute, the National Democratic Institute and Germany's Konrad Adenauer Foundation -- and confiscation of their funds.

Robert Becker of the National Democratic Institute was the only American who stayed behind to fight the charges, along with one German and 13 Egyptians, he said. It was not immediately clear which sentence he was given.

"If evidence matters in an Egyptian court, tomorrow's verdict will be not guilty," he said in a statement Monday on his blog. "But this case has been political from the very beginning; so guilty is also real possibility, despite the lack of evidence."

Yehia Ghanem, an Egyptian who worked for the International Center for Journalists -- an American NGO -- received two years in jail and vowed to appeal.

"For me and everyone it was clear the prosecution failed to produce a shred of evidence on all the allegations," he said in a statement Tuesday.

"We were planning on a training course for journalists but we never even had the chance to launch it," he said. "So it's amazing to be tried on something that never even happened -- it's a trial on intentions. We didn't even have a chance to do anything from our good intentions. "

Egyptian officials said the NGOs' work contributed to international interference that was stoking continued protests against the government.

In December 2011, authorities raided the offices of 10 NGOs. The general prosecutor's office said the raids were part of an investigation into allegations that the groups received illegal foreign financing and were operating without proper licenses.

The case sparked a crisis in relations between the United States and Egypt. The U.S. State Department called the charges "politically motivated."

One of the Americans charged and sentenced in absentia is Sam LaHood, the country director of the International Republican Institute and the son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

Human Rights Watch called on Egypt last year to drop the charges against the NGO workers, calling the case "a politicized saga."

 

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