US Embassy in Egypt housing citizens barred from leaving country
Joseph Mayton | 30 January 2012 | 0 Comments
US Embassy housing citizens barred from leaving Egypt.
CAIRO: A new report published on Monday says the United States Embassy in Cairo is sheltering American citizens working for NGOs in the country who have been barred from leaving the country.
The Washington Post said Embassy officials and a former NGO official have confirmed that the US citizens banned from leaving Egypt are currently on its grounds.
The American Embassy in Cairo is taking the step as relations between Washington and the military junta in the country continue to deteriorate.
The embassy did not return calls from Bikyamasr.com for a comment on the situation, but in recent months has been unwilling to assist American citizens arrested and detained by the military, including Bikyamasr.com Editor-in-chief Joseph Mayton, who was detained, beaten and held for more than 12 hours by the military. The US Embassy told Mayton that they would not come retrieve him and had to deal with “the political relationship between Washington and the military.”
A Hungarian citizen detained hours after Mayton, was picked up by his embassy in the early evening.
The US Embassy has since claimed it always assists its citizens in Egypt, but did not comment on specifics.
A senior State Department official said Sunday that a “handful of US citizens have opted to stay in the embassy compound in Cairo while awaiting permission to depart Egypt.”
The official, who was not allowed to discuss the matter on the record, would not say whether Sam LaHood, the son of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, was among those at the embassy.
LaHood said late last week that he fears he could be jailed for up to five years after being barred from leaving the country earlier this month.
LaHood and a number of other Americans were banned from leaving Egypt little over a week ago and told Fox News that they believe they could go on trial and face jail time.
The younger LaHood told Fox News via telephone on Friday that an Egyptian judge claims he, along with the other Americans stopped, worked for an unregistered non-governmental organization and took a salary.
“We’re kind of expecting the worst,” LaHood said.
“There hasn’t been a lot of movement nothing has really changed.
“If it does go to trial, a trial could last up to one year in a case that’s as wide-ranging as this one is. But the penalty for that is six months to five years in jail so these are very serious charges.”
For its part, the White House demanded that Egypt “immediately” lift the travel ban on Americans.
US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said top officials including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have gotten involved. She said the administration so far knows of “four or five specific cases” where Americans have tried to leave and “had difficulties.”
“We are urging the government of Egypt to lift these restrictions immediately and allow folks to come home as soon as possible,” she said, later adding: “Frankly, we don’t know how this is going to come out yet.”
The moves come little more than one month since NGOs were raided by Egyptian security forces in the country over their funding in the country.
According to Politico, Sam LaHood is the director of the Egyptian program at the IRI and attempted to leave the country on Saturday but was not allowed to depart.
The US government has been outspoken in its frustration with the ruling military junta’s crackdown on NGOs in the country, but have been unable to end the dispute.
The report did not say how many American citizens have been barred from leaving the country.
The US State Department last month called on the Egypt government “to immediately end the harassment of NGO staff, return all property and resolve this issue.” Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said US ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson and the top US diplomat for the Middle East have spoken to Egyptian officials about the situation and “made very clear that this issue needs immediate attention.”
The security forces, dressed in both uniforms and plainclothes, forced their way into the offices of the Arab Center for Independence of Justice and Legal Professions (ACIJP), The Budgetary and Human Rights Observatory, The National Democratic Institute’s (NDI) Cairo and Assiut offices, the International Republic Institute (IRI), Freedom House and Konrad Adenauer.
According to the statement from the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), the employees of the organizations are now under investigation by the public prosecutor.
Additionally, with regards to the ACIJP office at least, “authorities restricted access to the entire building, preventing people from entering or exiting the building,” during the raid.
CIHRS said that the move is part of the ruling military junta’s “campaign” against civil society and human rights groups in Egypt. In recent months, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has accused local NGOs of receiving money from abroad, and have argued to the public that the recent unrest in the country is by “foreign hands.”
“The NDI, IRI, and Freedom House have been previously investigated by the ministry of justice on charges of receiving foreign funding, while the Arab Center for the Independence of Justice and Legal Professions has not been yet investigated,” said CIHRS.
Local NGO officials have expressed concern to Bikyamasr.com over the raids and crackdown on their activities in the country, but were hopeful the situation would be cleared up “in the near future.”
Investigations of the Budgetary and Human Rights Observatory were due to start in late December.
“The storming of NGO offices is an unprecedented move in the recent history of Egyptian NGOs. In February 2011, during the 18 days Egyptian revolution, Military Police have stormed the office of Hisham Mubarak Law Center (an Egyptian NGO based in Cairo) and arrested several of its members as well as staff members of other international organizations that were present at the scene,” the statement continued.