Maher deserves to be free: Obama
Barack Obama - REUTERS/Larry Downing

CAIRO: U.S. President Barack Obama called for the release of founder of April 6 Youth Movement Ahmed Maher in a speech at the Clinton Global Initiative Tuesday.

“So today, we honor those who have given their lives…We stand in solidarity with those who are detained at this very moment…In Egypt, Ahmed Maher…They deserve to be free.  They ought to be released. “

Maher was charged with orchestrating illegal protests in November 2013, and in December, a misdemeanor court sentenced him to three years in prison and fined him 50,000 EGP ($6,992). An appeals court upheld the sentence in April.

On Sept. 17, Maher went on a hunger strike, along with 85 other detainees, a figure that appeared in Tuesday statement by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.

The striking prisoners are protesting prolonged pre-trial detention with no indictment, as well as the 2013 protest law under which thousands are jailed.

In June, Maher addressed the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in a letter leaked from prison and published in The Washington Post.

“No one can voice an opinion anymore, Mr. Kerry,” Maher wrote, adding that anyone who speaks against the state’s “oppression” would be killed, jailed or defamed.

“If your Apache helicopters are important in the fight against terrorism, I assure you that individual freedoms, democracy, respect for human rights, dialogue and inclusion are also important in the fight against terrorism.”

Civil society in Egypt

“From Hungary to Egypt, endless regulations and overt intimidation increasingly target civil society,” Obama said in his speech.

Receiving or requesting funds or weapons from a foreign country or organization, or a local private organization to harm national interests is a crime punishable by life in prison and a heavy fine, according to an amendment to the Penal Code passed by Sisi Sunday.

It is a capital offense if the defendant is a public official, a civil servant, of a public parliamentary status, or if the crime was committed in time of war or for purposes related to terrorism.

A registration deadline set by the Ministry of Social Solidarity for civil society organizations ends in November. The government is also set to adopt a bill regulating NGOs; it has received harsh criticism by Egyptian activists and civil society organizations.

Egypt’s criticism of its own civil society organizations has been almost ongoing since the January 25 Revolution in 2011. Egyptian NGOs have countered “treason” accusations for receiving funds by, among other reasoning, pointing out Egyptian businessmen’s failure to come forward with funding offers.

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