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In Egypt today, judges accused NGO workers of engaging in illegal political activity and shared some of the evidence against them. Investigators have referred 43 people to trial, including 19 Americans; among them, the son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. The younger LaHood is holed up with several others at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.
As NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports, today's revelations mark a serious escalation in tensions over Cairo's crackdown on pro-democracy and human rights groups.
KAMAL EL GANZOURY: (Foreign language spoken)
SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Interim Prime Minister Kamal el Ganzoury said U.S. threats to withhold more than one billion dollars in military aid to Egypt would not deter his government from pursuing the case against the NGO workers. Egyptian officials have suggested the workers are spurring continuing unrest in Egypt. To bolster that point, the judges investigating the workers say their groups' activities in Egypt increased after last year's revolution.
SAMEH ABU-ZEID: (Foreign language spoken)
NELSON: Judge Sameh Abu-Zeid claimed at a news conference broadcast on Egyptian state television that the NGOs, for years, flouted Egyptian law and failed to pay taxes. He accused their foreign employees of living here on tourist visas and working illegally because their groups' requests for licenses had not been approved.
ABU-ZEID: (Foreign language spoken)
NELSON: The judge also said the authorities confiscated maps and cash during raids on the NGO offices in December. He accused them of funding an Egyptian organization that took pictures of churches and military facilities in two Egyptian cities.
ASHRAF EL ASHMAWY: (Foreign language spoken)
NELSON: Fellow Judge Ashraf el Ashmawy added that on the charge of receiving foreign funding illegally, the workers could face up to five years in jail.
Of the five organizations the judges accused of breaking Egyptian law, four are American-based. They are the International Republican Institute, which is affiliated with the Republican Party and whose Egypt office is headed by the U.S. Transportation secretary's son, Sam LaHood; The National Democratic Institute, which is linked to the Democratic Party; Freedom House, which advocates for democracy and human rights, and the International Center for Journalists, which offers fellowships and training.
LaHood and his counterpart at the National Democratic Institute, Julie Hughes, could not be reached for comment. In the past, they denied any wrongdoing.
Hughes, in a recent conversation with NPR, says her group provided training to party candidates across Egypt's political spectrum on how to get their message out to voters. The group also provided voter education and monitored the recent elections here at the invitation of the Egyptian government.
Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Cairo.
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