Egypt lawyers demand jail for U.S. democracy activists

CAIRO Sun Feb 26, 2012 6:55am EST

An Egyptian human rights worker uses a laptop computer at the entrance of the office of an non-governmental organization in Cairo December 31, 2011. Egyptian officials have assured the United States they will halt raids on pro-democracy and human rights groups and return property seized in a crackdown that strained ties with Washington, a senior U.S. official said on Friday. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany

An Egyptian human rights worker uses a laptop computer at the entrance of the office of an non-governmental organization in Cairo December 31, 2011. Egyptian officials have assured the United States they will halt raids on pro-democracy and human rights groups and return property seized in a crackdown that strained ties with Washington, a senior U.S. official said on Friday.

Credit: Reuters/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany

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CAIRO (Reuters) - The trial of dozens of democracy activists including 16 Americans began on Sunday in a politically charged case which is threatening ties between Cairo and Washington and $1.3 billion in annual U.S. military aid.

Forty-three foreign and Egyptian non-profit workers - including the son of the U.S. transportation secretary - are accused of receiving illegal funds from abroad and carrying out political activities unrelated to their civil society work.

In a crowded courtroom on the outskirts of Cairo, lawyers who said they were volunteering in the case against the activists, demanded the defendants be imprisoned and accused them of "espionage."

"These organizations are accused of espionage and going against the law. Most of them are in contact with the CIA. These organizations gathered information and reports on Egypt and sent them to the U.S. State Department," Khaled Suleiman, a lawyer acting against the organizations, said.

Those accused in the case were banned from leaving Egypt pending the trial and some of the U.S. citizens targeted in the probe have taken refuge at the American embassy.

As the session started and a prosecution lawyer began listing funds send from abroad to the non-governmental organizations, 13 defendants stood behind the courtroom's bars, all of them Egyptians.

Several of the accused foreigners were already abroad when the travel ban was enacted. Many of the activists had not been formally summoned to appear before the court.

Television reporters crowded around the presiding judge, Mahmud Mohamed Shukry, as he arrived in the rowdy chamber and an interior ministry official threatened to expel journalists.

"This will be a procedural session. We will hear the charges and we will request the lifting of the travel ban," said defense lawyer Negad al-Borai.

DISCUSSIONS

A senior U.S. official said on Saturday Washington and Cairo were holding what he described as "intense discussions" to resolve the crisis within days.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who arrived in the Moroccan capital after visits to Algeria and Tunisia, has met Egypt's foreign minister Mohamed Kamel Amr twice in the last three days, the official said on condition of anonymity.

The U.S. pro-democracy groups whose staff have been charged deny they have done anything illegal.

Egypt says the case is a judicial matter and all groups must heed Egyptian law. In the text of the charges the prosecution would present, the groups are accused of establishing without permission branches for their organizations and offering unauthorized political training and workshops to parties.

One of the judges leading the probe has said the non-governmental organizations had violated Egyptian tax laws by not declaring their income from abroad or paying taxes on their workers' pay and had carried out political activities unrelated to their civil society work.

Negad al-Borai, a lawyer representing the accused in Cairo, said the charges referred only to a short period in the groups' activities and could therefore be argued against.

"The charges made involve only the period from March 2011 to December 2011," he told Reuters. "These groups have applied for permits before that period."

Some Egyptian officials have linked the funding of civil society initiatives to a U.S. plot to undermine Egypt's sovereignty - accusations the United States and the civil society workers deny.

Among those accused is Sam LaHood, Egypt director of the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the son of the U.S. transportation secretary.

The crisis escalated on December 29 when Egyptian authority swooped the offices of IRI and the National Democratic Institute, confiscating documents and computers and cash on the premises.

The government and the ruling military council say the case was initiated by the judiciary and is out of their hands.

(Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed in Rabat, Writing by Dina Zayed; Editing by Sophie Hares)

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Comments (3)
JamVee wrote:
I don’t support this tactic by Egypt, but I suspect that some, if not all, of the charges may be correct. The Western world, quite often, transgresses on the sovereign rights of countries, when they think they are “doing good”. However, the NGO’s should not be found at fault, if they were allowed to exist their, under the same circumstances by the Mubarak regime. They should have been warned to cease and desist.

Feb 26, 2012 8:17am EST  --  Report as abuse
ccharles wrote:
There nothing strange about the charges here. The only strange part is that these people thought they could openly operate and spread discontent and fuel the call for “democracy”, which in there land means exactly what we have seen.
These plots was put into place in 2009… thats when they went out and set up there offices and started there undermining the social society. Allan Gross was caught entering Cuba to set up one of those cells. Was immediatly Jailed in Cuba and is still jailed there.
To compound the deal, the USA diplomates have openly attempted to use the Aid eygpt is due to get as a ransom or a bribe to get the release of these people. That is kinda backfiring cause the American people are not to big on giving money away at this time. So to highlight it by using it as ransom wasnt smart.
Im pretty sure they are in Syria doing the same thing… Giving funds arms and intell to the anti goverment people.
Arab Spring is the creation of the CIA

Feb 26, 2012 8:44am EST  --  Report as abuse
emu wrote:
This is ridiculous. You call then “democracy activists”, the cnn “aid workers”. And “NGO” the biggest laugh of all.

Can’t you americans even agree on what to call your spies and manipulators?

Feb 26, 2012 8:50am EST  --  Report as abuse
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