Sam LaHood, the son of DOT Secretary Ray LaHood and at least five other Americans have been barred from leaving Egypt. This is a new development following trouble and harassment LaHood’s pro-democracy group received at the hands of Egyptian security forces in December, and now LaHood’s group is preparing a legal defense as the threat of a trial solidifies.
If convicted on charges, Sam LaHood faces anywhere from 6 months to 5 years in prison. LaHood steadfastly maintains he is innocent of the charges, and suggests that leaders within the Egyptian military are unhappy that his group attempts to thwart election tampering and provide technical communications solutions to Egyptian citizen pro-democracy groups.
The pro-democracy group LaHood works for, partly sponsored by the US government is called the International Republican Institute. They were put in place shortly after this last year’s pro-democratic revolution that ousted long-time military dictator Hosni Mubarak, sending him into exile and ushering in Egypt’s first democratic election in decades.
The travel ban became public after Sam LaHood went to Cairo’s airport Saturday to catch a flight and was told by an immigration official that he couldn’t leave.
“I asked her why I was denied, she said she didn’t know. I asked how to fix it, and she said she didn’t know,” said LaHood. An hour later, a man in civilian clothes gave him back his passport and escorted him to a curb outside the air terminal, LaHood said.
“It’s a dark signal for groups who are interested in doing this kind of work,” he said.
Sam LaHood said he was told by his lawyer that he is under investigation on suspicion of managing an unregistered nongovernmental organization and receiving “funds” from an unregistered organization.
The move has sparked a series of statements and actions from numerous government officials and office holders. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., released this statement today in regards to the developments:
“It is worrying enough that Sam and his fellow NGO workers have been singled out by name in Egyptian state-owned media; it is outrageous that these individuals would be held against their will by Egyptian authorities and prohibited from leaving the country. These individuals and the organizations that employ them have broken no laws, and indeed, have made every effort to comply with the statutes, regulations, and requests of the Egyptian government. …
“I call on the Egyptian government and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to cease the harassment and unwarranted investigations of American NGOs operating in Egypt, to register these groups immediately, to return all of the property confiscated in the raids against these organizations, to end the intimidation of their employees by Egyptian officials, and to permit those members of these groups who wish to leave the country to do so.”
More news as this story develops.