US Receives Egyptian Charges Against American NGO Activists

Posted February 8th, 2012 at 4:50 pm (UTC-5)
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The Obama administration says Egypt has formally charged several U.S. citizens, in connection with an investigation into illegal foreign funding of non-governmental organizations.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the administration received a “formal charging document” from Egypt on Wednesday. She said translators were working through the more than 100-page long Arabic-language document to find out which U.S. citizens have been charged and what they are accused of doing.

Egyptian investigators said Monday they filed criminal charges against 43 foreign and local activists, including 19 Americans working for organizations promoting Egypt's fledgling democracy. Egyptian prosecutors raided offices of the NGOs in December on suspicion of operating without a license and receiving foreign funds illegally. Washington says the Americans did nothing wrong.

Egypt's army-appointed prime minister said Wednesday his government will not “back down” in the investigation, despite a U.S. warning that it could prompt a cut to Cairo's $1.3 billion in annual U.S. military aid. Kamal al-Ganzouri insisted Egypt will “apply the law” in prosecuting the NGOs. Three U.S. senators had warned Tuesday of a “disastrous rupture” in relations with Egypt if it does not drop the charges.

Egypt says it imposed travel bans on the Americans after some of them left the country while the investigation was under way. One of the Americans referred to is Sam LaHood, a son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. Washington says some of the Americans have taken refuge in the U.S. embassy in Cairo, but has not disclosed how many or their identities.

Egyptian judge Sameh Abu Zaid said Wednesday the December raids uncovered a large amount of evidence of illegal funding from the United States, Europe and Arab countries. He said some NGO activists also gathered information on the location of Egyptian army units in the cities of Ismailia and Suez, indicating that they were engaged in political activities beyond civil society work.

In Washington, a Pentagon official said the top U.S. military officer will visit Egypt this week for “long planned” security talks with Egyptian military ruler Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi. The U.S. official said General Martin Dempsey will raise the issue of the American activists with his Egyptian counterparts if the dispute is not resolved by then.

A Tantawi-led military council has led Egypt since a popular uprising ousted autocratic President Hosni Mubarak one year ago. Egypt's military rulers have promised to stage a presidential election by June to complete a democratic transition to civilian rule. The ruling military also held a phased parliamentary election that led to last month's formation of a new assembly dominated by Islamist parties.