Egyptian Officials: Travel Ban on American NGO Activists Lifted

Posted February 29th, 2012 at 4:25 pm (UTC-5)
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Egyptian officials have lifted a travel ban on U.S. pro-democracy activists charged with illegal activities in a case that has strained Cairo's ties with Washington.

Egyptian judicial sources Wednesday said seven Americans on trial in the case are free to leave the country. One of them is a son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. Some of the activists have sought refuge at the U.S. embassy in Cairo. Nine other Americans also on trial for illegal activities left Egypt before the travel ban was imposed.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she is encouraged by reports that the seven American activists remaining in Egypt are free to leave, but she did not confirm the lifting of the travel ban.

The 16 Americans were among 43 members of non-governmental organizations who went on trial in an Egyptian court Sunday, facing charges of illegal fundraising and conducting political work without a license. The defendants also include 16 Egyptians and 11 other foreigners. None of the foreigners was present at the opening session.

Washington has said the American activists did nothing wrong and it warned of cuts to Egypt's $1.3 billion in annual U.S. military aid if the trial proceeds.

In remarks to U.S. lawmakers on Wednesday, Clinton said Washington and Cairo are close to settling the dispute.

“We believe we will resolve this issue concerning our NGOs in the very near future. That is my best assessment sitting here today.”

Egypt's apparent lifting of the travel ban on the Americans comes one day after all three judges handling the trial recused themselves. Judicial sources quoted chief judge Mohammed Shoukry as saying that he felt uneasy about the trial, which was adjourned until April 26. The exact reason for his resignation was not clear.

Egypt's court of appeal typically assigns new judges to a case when the original judges withdraw.