While he says it is "patently false" for anyone to say that the International Republican Institute offices he directs are in any way behind the anti-government protests in Egypt, American Sam LaHood told All Things Considered host Melissa Block this afternoon that he's been warned by the organization's attorney that he and others may soon be charged and brought to trial by authorities there.
The lawyer's analogy, LaHood said, is that "we are being held hostage and there's a negoitation going on in his opinion between our governments ... and nobody wants the hostage to die, but sometimes mistakes are made."
(The lawyer, LaHood added, was being funny — not implying that the death penalty would be imposed.)
"If we are referred to trial," LaHood continued. "The trial could last up to a year ... and the potential penalty is six months to five years in jail."
As we reported Thursday, LaHood was one of several Americans prevented from leaving Egypt last weekend. All of them work for the IRI, a U.S.-government sponsored organization that observes elections, educates voters and provides "technical assistance," LaHood said, to political parties. The IRI and more than dozen other foreign organizations were raided by authorities in late December. His group still can't return to its offices and its computers, files and money have not been returned, LaHood says.
The State Department has protested both the raid of the organizations and the move to prevent LaHood and others from leaving Egypt. LaHood was trying to take a personal trip to Dubai when he was stopped at the Cairo airport.
LaHood, 36, is the son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. Much more from his conversation with Melissa is due on today's broadcast of All Things Considered. Later, we'll add the as-aired conversation to the top of this post.