LOS ANGELES An Egyptian teenager who traveled to the United States to take part in a prestigious science fair has decided to seek asylum, saying he fears returning home after being accused of taking part in anti-government protests in Cairo, his U.S. lawyer said on Tuesday.
Abdullah Assem, who has invented eyeglasses for quadriplegics to operate computers and communicate with others, flew to Los Angeles on May 12 to present his creation at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, lawyer Farida Chehata said.
Three days later, the gifted 17-year-old contacted officials with the Los Angeles office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations and expressed concern about returning to Egypt, according to Chehata, who is a staff attorney with the council.
With the support of his parents in Egypt, Assem decided to stay in the United States and seek asylum, said Chehata, who will represent the boy in his application. He has not yet filed the application with U.S. immigration authorities.
"It's unfortunate and it's very sad to see children with a lot of potential to do a lot of great things, to have that stifled by the government over there for whatever reason and without due process," she said.
U.S. chipmaker Intel Corp sponsors the annual fair, which is the world's largest science competition for precollege students, with more than $5 million in awards available for competitors from more than 70 countries.
Assem was arrested on April 25 in Cairo on charges of participating in protests and burning two police vehicles, after he traveled to the Egyptian capital from his Middle Egypt hometown of Assiut to obtain electronic equipment for an academic project, Chehata said.
Chehata, who called the charges against the teen fabricated, said he had not been participating in protests. She added he fears he will not get a fair trial in Egypt and that he will be sent to prison for years for crimes he did not commit.
She said Egyptian authorities initially did not want to let Assem fly to the United States for the science fair following his arrest, but ultimately permitted him to leave for Los Angeles a day after Egyptian media reported on his situation.
Assem is staying with a family friend in the Los Angeles area, Chehata said.
A representative from the science fair could not be reached for comment.
Officials at Egypt's public prosecutor's office and Ministry of Education were not immediately available to comment after hours, and an Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman declined to comment.
A spokeswoman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services also declined to comment.
(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Stephen Kalin in Cairo; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Mohammad Zargham)