Egypt postpones trial of foreign-sponsored activists amid US pressure

Cairo: A vendor walks past Egyptian riot policemen standing guard outside a court in Cairo on February 22, 2012 (AFP Photo/Marco Longari)
The trial of NGO workers suspected of illegally using foreign funding and fomenting unrest has been postponed until April 26. Washington is pushing Egypt to drop the charges and release the activists, 16 of whom are American citizens.

Presiding Judge Mahmoud Mohammed Shoukry has postponed the trial until the end of April during the opening session in Cairo on Sunday.

Thirteen Egyptian defendants were in the courtroom filled with hundreds of lawyers and reporters. None of the accused Americans were in court for the session.

The Obama administration is in “intense discussions” with Egypt to resolve issue “in the coming days,” a senior US official said Saturday. Earlier the US threatened to cut a $1.5 billion annual aid to Egypt, unless the activists are released. Cairo lashed out at the pressure, accusing Washington of meddling with Egypt’s internal affairs.

A total of 43 defendants are standing trial, including 16 Egyptians, 16 Americans as well as Germans, Palestinians, Serbs and Jordanians. They are suspected of violating laws regulating NGO activities. Seven US nationals have been barred from leaving the country by the attorney general.

Among the organizations targeted by the December crackdown were four US-based groups: the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute, Freedom House and a group that trains journalists.

The defendants deny the allegations and say the case is politically motivated.

“Let me state clearly that we do not view this situation as a legal matter involving rule of law,”
Freedom House President David J. Kramer said. “The charges are clearly political in nature and without foundation.”

Critics accuse Egyptian ruling military council, which is supervising the country’s transition until a new parliament and a new president are elected, of trying to silence pro-democracy groups. The authorities parry by saying the trial is carried out by judiciary, not the government.

Some local media reported that investigators found information sensitive to national security while inspecting computers seized from suspected NGOs during the raids.