Egyptian investigative judges on Sunday referred to a criminal court in Cairo the cases of 43 individuals working for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that advocate democracy in the country. The suspects, including 19 Americans, other foreigners and Egyptians, have been charged with promoting democracy in Egypt [Egypt Independent report] without proper documentation and by using illegal funds. Egyptian officials are preventing the suspects from leaving the country. The accused include employees of the International Republican Institute (IRI), the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and Freedom House [advocacy websites]. US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice [official profile] on Monday called on Egypt to release the suspects [Politico report], including an IRI employee who is also the son of US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood [official profile]. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton [official profile] has also threatened to reconsider the $1.3 billion in annual aid [Reuters report] given to Egypt. International aid organizations have condemned the decision to bring the NGO employees to trial. Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] urged the Egyptian government to drop the charges [press release] until the country's "new parliament proposes legislation consistent with international legal standards." HRW also suggested that the investigative judges who referred the cases to the court were acting on behalf of government officials, a claim that Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammed Amr refuted Monday, saying that the government could not control the judiciary [AP report]. Trial dates have not yet been scheduled.
Egypt's crackdown on NGOs has drawn criticism for months. In January, the Egyptian government denied cracking down on pro-democracy NGOs after officials raided the offices of 17 different NGOs [JURIST reports] the previous week. Authorities stated that the raid was part of an investigation of illegal political funding activities, but accusations spread that the government was trying to silence the military council's vocal opposition. A spokesperson for the US State Department said that the raids on NGOs did not positively reflect the Egyptian government's commitment to democracy. Despite Egypt's assurances to the US that it would return to the NGOs all property and assets seized in the raids, the Egyptian military also proclaimed that it would not tolerate foreign interference [Reuters report] in the nation's affairs. This week's decision to investigate NGO employees coincides with ongoing violence in Egypt [NPR report], where more than 70 people were killed Thursday during a riot in a soccer stadium and as many as 13 killed in protests during the last five days.