US officials ‘agreed’ to jail Egyptian-American rights activist for life: report

US officials ‘agreed’ to jail Egyptian-American rights activist for life: report
On a visit to the US, Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel reportedly said that the American government had agreed to imprison Mohammed Soltan for the rest of his life after he was exiled from Egypt to the US.
3 min read
13 July, 2021
Mohammed Soltan was detained and tortured in Egypt [Getty]

The head of Egyptian intelligence, Abbas Kamel, claimed that the United States agreed to jail Egyptian-American human rights activist Mohammed Soltan after he was freed from Egyptian custody in 2015, the US current affairs website Politico reported on Monday.

Kamel visited the United States in June and reportedly asked shocked US members of Congress why Soltan was living freely in the United States when the US had assured Egyptian authorities that he would spend the rest of his life in prison, according to Politico.

Politico said that it had obtained a copy of a document which appeared to be an agreement signed by Egyptian and American officials stipulating that Soltan would be imprisoned by US authorities after his return to the US from Egypt.

The Arabic-language document was given by Kamel to Congressional members of staff on his recent visit to the US. It says that Kamel was handed over to an American "security delegation" consisting of two people for deportation to the United States, "with a guarantee that his sentence will be completed in American prisons".

From the Egyptian side it appears to have been signed on behalf of "Cairo Interpol" by Colonel Hisham Hasbou. There is also a signature in a space reserved for "the American embassy" but it is unclear whose it is. However, one of the officials in the US "security delegation" is named as Nolen Johnson and the signature contains an "N" and a "J".

Intimidation and bullying'

After current Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi led a military coup against the country's first democratically-elected leader, Mohammed Morsi, in July 2013 Soltan took part in and reported on protests against the coup in Cairo's Rabaa Square.

He was shot during the Rabaa Square Massacre, when the Egyptian military violently dispersed the protests in August 2013 and then detained.

Soltan who was brutally tortured in prison, was later sentenced to life imprisonment in Egypt for "supporting a terrorist group” and “spreading false news".

He began an open-ended hunger strike against his treatment in 2014 that ended up lasting for 489 days.

His case gained global attention and he only released following prolonged negotiations between the Egyptian government and the US administration of former President Barack Obama in 2015.

Officials from the US State Department told Politico that the document Kamel presented was likely to have been signed at the last minute by a US representative in Egypt, under pressure from Egyptian authorities, amid US efforts to ensure that Soltan would be able to return to the US.

They said it was not legally enforceable.

Soltan, who has continued campaigning for human rights in Egypt after returning to the US, said in a statement that Kamel's claims were a “natural progression of the well-documented intimidation and bullying campaign by the Egyptian regime against me and human rights defenders.”

"I hope my government responds swiftly and decisively to protect my basic rights and freedoms from their aggression," he added.

Debate over aid

The document's appearance came amid continued questions in the US over aid to President Sisi's government.

Egypt receives $1.3 billion of aid from the US every year, but $300 million of that can be withheld if the country does not meet human rights conditions laid down by the US Congress.

Seven progressive US Senators, including Elizabeth Warren, have urged President Joe Biden to hold back the aid.

Thousands of government opponents and critics currently languish in Egyptian jails, where torture and ill-treatment are routine.

During his 2020 election campaign, Biden criticised what he characterised as Trump's indulgence of Sisi's government and said that if he became president, the Egyptian dictator would no longer receive "blank checks" from the US.

However, Egyptian activists have said that Biden has not taken any practical measures in this regard since assuming office.