US secretary of state John Kerry issued a statement on Saturday expressing deep concern over the human rights situation in Egypt in recent months on the back of reports on new wave of prosecution against NGO workers in Egypt.
“These steps run contrary to the universal principle of freedom of association and to the government of Egypt’s commitments to support the role of civil society in governance and development,” Kerry said referring to reports on the reopening of case 173/2011 against human rights NGOs, better known as the “foreign-funded NGOs” case.
The case dates back to December 2011, when prosecutors, backed by the police, stormed the offices of 17 local and international NGOs, including the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute, and Freedom House, as part of a probe into the NGO’s allegedly illegal foreign funding.
Forty-three NGOs workers were put to trial, including 32 foreigners, and were convicted of unlicensed work and receiving illegal foreign funds. Twenty seven defendants, all foreigners, were sentenced to five years imprisonment in absentia, while another five foreigners received two-year sentences in attendance and 11 Egyptians received a one-year suspended sentence and an EGP 1,000 fine.
Media reports on Wednesday suggested the case is reopened to investigations, a move that was followed by interrogations of a number of NGOs workers, namely of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies and the United Group law firm.
The top US diplomat said restrictions on the space for civil society activity will produce “neither stability nor security”, urging the Egyptian government to work with civic groups to ease restrictions on association and expression and to take action to allow these and other human rights NGOs to operate freely.
Kerry also said the decision to reopen investigations in the case comes against a “wider backdrop of arrests and intimidation of political opposition, journalists, civil society activists and cultural figures”.