John Kerry voices concern over human rights in Egypt as 2011 case is reopened against several NGOs

American Secretary of State John Kerry announced on Friday his concern for the deteriorating condition of human rights in Egypt, citing the reopening of a case against non-governmental organizations, which dates back to 2011.

“I am deeply concerned by the deterioration in the human rights situation in Egypt in recent weeks and months, including the reported decision this week by the Egyptian government to reopen an investigation of Egyptian nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) documenting human rights abuses and defending the freedoms enshrined in Egypt’s constitution,” a statement posted on the State Department’s official website on Friday read.

This marks a shift in tone for the US politician. Kerry previously expressed support for President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s government, praising Egypt for “restoring democracy” since the ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013.

In late 2011, a case was opened against the US government-funded National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute, Freedom House and several other NGOs accused of operating and receiving foreign funding without a license, led by then-Minister of Planning and International Cooperation Fayza Abouelnaga. 43 workers in foreign NGOs were charged, and in June 2013, all the defendants — including 17 US citizens, other foreigners and Egyptians — were handed prison sentences, many in absentia. The court also ordered the closure of the implicated NGOs, sparking international outrage.

Workers at local NGOs who were implicated in the investigation were not sentenced in the 2013 case, and it was not clear at the time if they might be brought to trial at a later date.

The decision to reopen the case “comes against a wider backdrop of arrests and intimidation of political opposition, journalists, civil society activists and cultural figures,” Kerry said, adding, “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.”

Defendants in the reopened case include the executive director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information Gamal Eid and founder of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights Hossam Bahgat. In February, both Bahgat and Eid were banned from travel when they attempted to board flights at Cairo International Airport, but they were not notified of any pending charges against them at the time. 

Kerry urged the Egyptian government to work with civil society groups to ease tightening restrictions on freedom of association and expression, warning this “would produce neither stability nor security.”

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