CAIRO, Feb. 20 (UPI) -- Three U.S. senators were in Cairo Monday to meet with Egyptian leaders about the "difficult situation" involving 19 U.S. citizens facing charges in Egypt.
Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., Joe Lieberman, Ind-Conn. and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., on a previously planned trip to Egypt, added discussions of the case of the Americans -- caught in a Egyptian crackdown on non-governmental organizations -- to their itinerary, CNN reported.
"I think this is a very difficult situation," McCain said Sunday on ABC's "This Week." "I am not a negotiator, but I think it's important that I and the other senators in the delegation explain to the Egyptian leadership ... that this is a serious situation, has serious implications for our relationship."
The Americans, among 43 people accused in a case involving foreign funding irregularities, are scheduled to appear in a criminal court Sunday, the Egyptian general prosecutor's office said. Among the U.S. detainees is the son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Sam LaHood, the director of Egypt operations for the International Republican Institute. McCain is the IRI board chairman.
The employees of the American and European civil society organizations have been charged with operating in Egypt without licenses after an investigation by Egyptian authorities revealed the organizations allegedly received money from abroad under the names of their employees, not through official bank accounts. Prosecutors also said documents indicated foreign workers employed by the non-government organizations had tourist visas, not work visas, and paid no taxes.
The two judges overseeing the case, Ashraf el-Ashmawi and Sameh Abu Zeid, said the charges could result in five-year prison terms, CNN said.
"These organizations conducted unlicensed and illegal activities without the knowledge of the Egyptian government," el-Ashmawi said. "Documents confiscated during the raids on the NGOs offices confirm illegal foreign funding."
Sixteen international human rights organizations in Egypt wrote to the Egyptian government demanding an end to raids on the NGOs and expressed concern about the welfare of the detainees, bikyamasr.com said.
The signatories, including Amnesty International, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Organizations, and the International Alliance for Women, demanded the government re-draft its law concerning civil associations and allow civil society organizations to work freely to help in the economic and democratic development in Egypt.
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