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Foreign NGO workers released, allowed to leave the country

(Freedom House/IFEX) - Washington, March 1, 2012 - Freedom House welcomes the decision by Egyptian authorities to permit wrongfully charged foreign NGO workers to leave the country but remains very concerned about the fate of 14 Egyptians who remain in the country and continue to face spurious charges. We call for the criminal case against all defendants to be immediately dropped and for authorities to allow civil society organizations to resume their work without interference.

"These charges have been entirely political in nature from the start and have no legal merit as a criminal prosecution. While Freedom House is relieved that the Americans and other foreign nationals confined to Egypt are now free to return home to their families, this issue will not truly be resolved until the charges have been dropped and the ongoing attacks on civil society organizations have ceased," said David J. Kramer, president of Freedom House.

Although the travel ban has been lifted, Freedom House's office and those of others affected organizations remain closed, equipment that was confiscated has not been returned and those charged continue to face up to 5 years in prison. Four Freedom House staff members who are Egyptian nationals have been charged and remain in Cairo.

"While we celebrate those returning home, we must remind ourselves why they were in Egypt in the first place. They were there to support Egyptian civil society and defend the rights and freedoms of Egyptians. There are 400 NGOs in Egypt that continue to face prosecution under a judicial system that lacks independence and where the basic right to freedom of association is not respected," said Charles Dunne, director of Middle East and North Africa programs at Freedom House. "The chilling effect this has had on their work is particularly worrisome given that the country's historic presidential election is fast-approaching."

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