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Egypt Stops American Pro-Democracy Activists from Leaving
At least six Americans, among them Sam LaHood, son of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, have been stopped from leaving Egypt. The six persons were in Egypt working for pro-democracy organizations. The Egyptian government is considering putting them on trial.
Sam LaHood was stopped from boarding his flight on January 21, just a day after President Barack Obama talked to Egyptian Field Marshall Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, who is heading the country’s interim ruling body. Obama talked about the importance of letting NGOs operate freely.
LaHood was working as the resident country director of the International Republican Institute, or IRI, in Egypt. It is one of the three America-based pro-democracy groups that were raided by Egypt’s police in December. The organizations have been charged with breaking local laws.
The two other prominent organizations under investigation are Freedom House and the National Democratic Institute (NDI). State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that the matter has being now taken up to the highest level, in a reference to the phone call that Obama made to Tantawi.
One of the main reasons that the pro-democracy groups were targeted for investigation was that the groups were not properly registered in Egypt. Sam LaHood and three other IRI employees have been accused of managing an unregistered NGO in addition to being paid employees of an unregistered organization. If found guilty, Sam LaHood could face up to five years in prison. The organizations claim that Egyptian authorities have purposely undermined and slowed down their application process.
Egyptian officials have not commented on the bans and even Michael Posner, the State Department top official on human rights when visiting Cairo declined to comment on the travel bans. But Posner did mention that the annual aid that Egypt gets from the US every year could be affected if the dispute over NGOs was not resolved soon.