State Department concerned by reports Egypt is harassing American activist’s family

After spending nearly two years in a Cairo prison, Mohamed Soltan filed a lawsuit in a US court against Egypt's former prime minister.

al-monitor Mohamed Soltan appears in an undated photo. Photo by TWITTER/RightsCorridor.

Jun 25, 2020

The US State Department and human rights groups have expressed alarm over reports that the family of an American citizen, once a political prisoner in Egypt, is being harassed and intimidated by Egyptian security forces.

A statement filed in a US court by Mohamed Soltan, a 32-year-old human rights defender who spent nearly two years in a Cairo prison, alleges armed security forces raided the homes of his relatives overnight on two occasions this month. Five of his male cousins, all in their early 20s, were subjected to enforced disappearance for two days.

The men, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW), are now serving 15-day detentions pending investigations over charges of “spreading false news” and joining a “terrorist organization.”

Their harassment is seen as retaliation for a suit Solton filed earlier this month in the US District Court for the District of Columbia against former Egyptian Prime Minister Hazem el-Biblawi. The suit alleges Soltan’s “imprisonment, torture and near death” in prison between 2013 and 2015 “were the direct results of actions taken by the highest levels of the Egyptian government,” including by Biblawi.

The 83-year-old former premier, who lives in the United States and serves as an executive director at the International Monetary Fund, is accused of the “attempted extrajudicial killing” of Soltan and overseeing his torture. The 46-page complaint also names Egypt’s current president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

On Wednesday, the US State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs said it was concerned by the reported raids and arrests of Soltan’s relatives.

“We are concerned about reports that relatives of U.S. citizen and former detainee Mohammad Soltan are facing acts of intimidation in Egypt. We will continue to monitor the situation and take seriously all allegations of harassment and intimidation,” the bureau tweeted.

In August 2013, Soltan participated in a weekslong peaceful sit-in at Cairo's Rabia al-Adawiya Square protesting the military’s ouster of Egypt's first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi. The Egyptian army and security forces dispersed the protesters in a violent crackdown that killed at least 817 people in under 12 hours, according to HRW.

Soltan was shot in the arm and later arrested. Charged with spreading terror and broadcasting “fake news,” the Ohio State University graduate was sentenced to life in prison in April 2015 before he was ultimately released.

In a statement on Wednesday, 21 human rights and other groups called on the Egyptian authorities to “immediately release Soltan’s relatives and end the systemic reprisals against human rights activists and their relatives.”

“These reprisals appear aimed at obstructing justice and silencing Egyptian activists, even if they are no longer in Egypt,” said Neil Hicks, senior director for advocacy at the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, in a statement.

Egypt’s crackdown on human rights defenders, journalists and civil society has intensified in recent months. This week, the family of activist Sanaa Seif, whose brother Alaa Abdel Fatah has been detained since September, said she was abducted by security forces in Cairo.

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