CAIRO, June 4 (UPI) -- The United States Tuesday expressed concern over sentences a Cairo court gave 42 staffers for non-profits that took foreign funds without government consent.
Caitlin Hayden, spokeswoman for President Obama's National Security Council, said the United States is "deeply concerned" about the verdicts against the staffers of non-governmental organizations "in what was a politically motivated trial."
"The court's decision undermines the protection of universal human rights and calls into question the government of Egypt's commitments to support the important role of civil society," Hayden said in a statement issued by the White House. "Civic groups, including international non-governmental organizations, play a key role in successful democracies. They are critical to advancing freedoms, supporting universal human rights and acting as appropriate checks on the government.
"We urge the government of Egypt to protect the ability of these groups to operate freely, including by ensuring that the civil society law under consideration by the Shura Council conforms with international standards, and by working with international and domestic civic organizations to ensure they can support Egypt's transition to democracy."
Five defendants, including one American, were sentenced to two years in prison, while 11 defendants were given suspended one-year sentences, al-Masry al-Youm reported.
Some 27 defendants who had fled the country were sentenced in absentia to five years each.
All but 14 of those convicted are foreign nationals.
Five non-governmental organizations were ordered closed, and their funds and documents confiscated.
Those closed were the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute, Freedom House, the International Center for Journalists and the German Konrad Adenauer Stiftung.
Sam LaHood, the son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, was among those charged. He was director of Egyptian operations for the International Republican Institute.
The defendants were accused of working for organizations that illegally accepted foreign funding and of working illegally in the country.
In March, Amnesty International had urged Egypt to drop charges against all the defendants.
"The Egyptian authorities must not use this heavily publicized case to distract international attention from the situation faced by human rights organizations in Egypt," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International's deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa.
U.S. authorities had considered freezing $1.3 billion in annual military aid to Egypt to pressure officials into dropping the case, Egyptian Web site Bikyamasr.com reported.