NGO worker cases sent to Egypt court

Nineteen Americans on list of those facing charges; US State Department "deeply concerned" by the Egyptian move.

By REUTERS
February 5, 2012 17:54
2 minute read.
Tahrir packed with protesters

Tahrir is packed (R) 311. (photo credit: Reuters)

 
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CAIRO - The cases of 40 US citizens, other foreigners and Egyptians embroiled in a dispute over the activities and funding of pro-democracy groups have been referred to court, judicial sources said on Saturday, deepening a row with the United States.

Washington has strongly criticized the crackdown on the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and an unspecified number of US citizens involved have sought shelter in the US embassy.

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Egypt, among the largest recipients of US aid since its 1979 peace treaty with Israel, has been told by US lawmakers assistance may be cut because of its treatment of the groups.

Several US and others involved have been barred from leaving Egypt. They include Sam LaHood, the country director of the International Republican Institute who is the son of the US transportation secretary.

"The cases of 40 foreign and Egyptian suspects have been transferred to the Cairo criminal court related to foreign funding," a judicial source told Reuters. State news agency MENA also carried the report.

Egyptian officials say the crackdown is part of a probe into foreign funding of NGOs. But civil society groups say the ruling military council ordered the raids to harass activists who were at the forefront of the anti-Mubarak revolt and have been pressing for the army to swiftly hand power to civilians.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Saturday a crackdown by Egypt's military rulers on US and local pro-democracy groups could jeopardize aid for the Arab nation.

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The NGO activists include 19 Americans alongside others who are Serbian, Norwegian, Lebanese as well as Egyptian, according to a statement issued by judges overseeing the probe and seen by Reuters. One judge involved said the list included LaHood.

The charge listed in the statement was "running organizations without getting the required licenses". One of the judges running the investigation said that investigations were continuing with Egyptians in other similar cases.

The US State Department responded to the news on Sunday, saying it was "deeply concerned" by reports of the Egyptian judicial officials' move.

"We have seen media reports that judicial officials intend to forward a number of cases involving US-funded NGOs to the Cairo criminal court," US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters in Shannon, Ireland.

"We are deeply concerned by these reports and are seeking clarification from Egypt," she said. Nuland is traveling with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The cases of 40 people - including US citizens, other foreigners and Egyptians embroiled in a dispute over the activities and funding of pro-democracy groups - have been referred to court, Egyptian judicial sources said on Sunday.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr told Clinton during his meeting with her that all groups, regardless of country of origin, had to abide by Egypt's laws on registration, the ministry's spokesman Amr Rushdy said in a statement.

The National Democratic Institute, one of the US-funded groups whose staff are facing travel bans, said it began work in 2005 and sought to register the same year but after responding to some official queries after that no progress was made.

However, the group says it has operated openly since then, engaging with officials regularly.

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