National Journal: Interpol Refuses Egypt’s Request to Arrest Pro-democracy NGO Workers

Interpol Denies Cairo’s Request to Arrest NGO Workers
National Journal
By Sara Sorcher

Interpol’s headquarters refused a request Monday by Egypt’s authorities to issue worldwide notices for the arrest of 15 nongovernmental workers—12 of them Americans—accused of illegally operating pro-democracy programs and stirring unrest.

As first reported by National Journal, State Department counsel Harold Koh and Justice Department Deputy Assistant Attorney General Bruce Swartz had for weeks been trying to convince Interpol to dismiss as “politically motivated” Egypt’s request for so-called ‘red’ notices to arrest personnel from several nongovernmental organizations that receive U.S. funding.

Cairo’s move to seek help from the international police organization was a sharp rebuke to the U.S., which has pressed Egypt to drop criminal charges against the Washington-based National Democratic Institute, International Republican Institute, Freedom House, and International Center for Journalists.

Interpol’s headquarters in Lyon, France, announced on Monday that its office of legal affairs concluded Egypt’s request “is not in conformity with Interpol’s rules.” In a statement, Interpol referenced Article 3 of its constitution, which mandates neutrality and strictly forbids it to undertake any intervention in matters of “political, military, religious or racial character.”

Tensions between Washington and Cairo had eased on March 1 when seven American democracy workers were allowed to leave Egypt after their institutions paid some $5 million in “bail” to lift the travel ban against them. These Americans—including IRI’s Sam LaHood, son of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood—still face charges, but are not wanted for arrest in Egypt.

Just days after Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton signed off on military aid to Cairo on March 23, Egypt asked Interpol to issue so-called red notices for other nongovernmental workers who were not in Egypt at the time, or in some cases, who never worked there at all. Among the 12 Americans in this group are prominent figures in Washington, like Freedom House’s Charles Dunne, a former U.S. diplomat who also served on the National Security Council under President George W. Bush.

Interpol’s review also concluded that no information about the individuals in this group—which also includes two Lebanese and one Jordanian national—be maintained in its databases. Egypt had directly asked countries for help in locating and arresting the individuals in a secret alert known as a diffusion, circumventing the formal process of seeking a red notice for the NGO workers through Interpol’s headquarters.

“Following the diffusion sent by the Egyptian authorities, all 190 INTERPOL member countries were advised that a legal review of the request was being conducted, and all 190 member countries have now been updated as to the General Secretariat’s decision to refuse the Red Notice request,” Interpol said in a statement.

Cairo’s Interpol push came just after Clinton waived congressional restrictions that would have required her to certify the country was respecting the transition to democracy, and implementing policies to protect due process of law and freedom of expression, association, and religion.

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