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Egypt Imposes Jail Sentences on Absent Foreign NGO Workers

An Egyptian court has convicted 43 workers for foreign non-profit agencies, including at least 15 Americans, on charges of illegally using funds to stir unrest in the country.

The court on Tuesday imposed sentences of up to five years in prison on many of the workers. Most of them were sentenced in absentia after having been allowed to leave the country last year.

Five of the workers, including one American still in Egypt, were sentenced to two years in jail and ordered to pay a fine of 1,000 Egyptian pounds - roughly $143. The remaining 11 defendants were given one-year suspended sentences.

The court also ordered the permanent closures of the Egyptian offices of the non-governmental organizations, which include the U.S.-based Freedom House, the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called the trial "politically motivated." He said the decision "runs contrary to the universal principle of freedom of association" and is incompatible with Egypt's transition to democracy.

Kerry said civic groups and international non-governmental organizations play a legitimate role in any democracy.

The crackdown began in 2011. Egyptian authorities raided the offices of several U.S.-based pro-democracy groups and NGOs and filed charges against 16 American activists on suspicions of using illegally obtained funds to undermine Egypt's stability.

That incident triggered a major diplomatic dispute between Egypt and its ally, the U.S. An Egyptian judge later lifted a travel ban that had been imposed on the activists, allowing them to leave the country.