More than 20 international human rights organizations have issued an open letter to US president Joe Biden asking him to reject the Egyptian government’s request to imprison Mohammed Soltan, an Egyptian-American activist who was a political prisoner in Egypt. The rights groups also reiterated their call for the US to stop military aid worth USD 300 million to the Egyptian government of military dictator-turned president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. A similar letter was sent to the US government in April urging the administration to not use the national security waiver to override the requirement of meeting human rights standards for providing military aid.
The new letter reminds president Biden of his campaign speeches in which he repeatedly promised “no more blank checks” for al-Sisi, specifically mentioning the targeting of Soltan. The signatories to the letter include prominent organizations including Amnesty International, Egyptian Front for Human Rights (EFHR), Egyptian Human Rights Forum, Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, EuroMed Rights, Human Rights Watch, and Committee for Justice.
Soltan was first arrested in 2013 in the aftermath of the military coup against Egypt’s first democratically elected leader, Mohammed Morsi. He was reportedly extensively tortured while in prison and subsequently found guilty in a trial that rights groups have called “grossly unfair”. He was eventually released in 2015 and has been living in the US State of Virginia since then. According to a report in the US news outlet Politico, the head of the Egyptian General Intelligence Services, Abbas Kamel, while on a visit to the US in June this year demanded that Soltan be imprisoned again for the rest of his life, in line with the punishment he had received after the trial in Egypt. Kamel insisted that those were the terms under which a deal for his release was struck with the administration of former US president Barack Obama.
Rights groups have called on the Biden administration to state in clear terms that “the Egyptian request to imprison Soltan will not be considered.” The letter also calls for holding the Egyptian regime responsible for its persecution of human rights activists, opposition figures, journalists, writers, lawyers, and others. It urges the Biden administration to not use the national security waiver to send military assistance to Egypt unless the country meets the US congress’ condition of improving the status of human rights.
Since al-Sisi’s coming to power, estimates by human rights groups state that close to 60,000 Egyptians have been imprisoned in the country purely on the basis of their political beliefs and affiliations or due to their opposition and criticism of the government’s authoritarian and unjust actions and policies. Countless Egyptians have also been killed while in custody as a result of torture and maltreatment by the Egyptian authorities.
The letter asks US secretary of state Antony Blinken to “consider the continuing widespread repression of rights and freedoms in Egypt and the brazen efforts of the Egyptian authorities to intimidate and stigmatize human rights defenders and other peaceful government critics in Egypt and abroad, including in the United States, and to send a clear message on human rights by not using the waiver.” It goes on to warn the US administration that “anything short of these strong messages will allow the Egyptian government to continue acting with impunity in ways that directly threaten the lives and well-being of millions of Egyptians.”