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Human Rights Watch Criticizes Egypt's Conviction of Foreign Workers

Human Rights Watch is criticizing an Egyptian court's conviction of 43 workers from foreign non-profit agencies, calling the ruling "unjust."

The court on Tuesday sentenced many of the workers to up to five years in prison on charges of illegally using funds to stir unrest.

Human Rights Watch says the convictions violate the freedom of association, and "are not compatible with respect for fundamental rights."

The group expressed concern about a draft law Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi introduced last week to regulate non-governmental organizations. Human Rights Watch says with that measure Egypt would not meet its international rights obligations, and urged Mr. Morsi to amend the it.

Other rights groups and Western governments have expressed concerns about the draft law.

The court on Tuesday also ordered the Egyptian offices of the NGOs to shut down. They include U.S.-based Freedom House, the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute.

Most of the workers, which include at least 15 Americans, were sentenced in absentia after being allowed to leave the country last year.

The White House says it is deeply concerned by the verdicts, calling it the result of a politically motivated trial. It says the court's decision undermines the protection of universal human rights and questions the Egyptian government's commitment to a civil society.

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

That incident triggered a major diplomatic dispute between Egypt and the U.S. An Egyptian judge later lifted a travel ban on the defendants, allowing them to leave the country.