US citizen Mustafa Kassem who was detained in Egypt for over six years has died of heart failure resulting from a hunger strike on January 13. Kassem, the 54-year-old Egyptian-born American from New York, was detained in August 2013 in Cairo while visiting his family. He was reportedly mistakenly arrested during an Islamist protest that resulted in the death of hundreds of people.
The case has brought to light the atrocities of the Egyptian prison system, where many inmates are reportedly held for crimes they claim they did not commit or have not been charged for at all during Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi’s crackdown on dissent.
Kassem was reportedly beaten and held in detention for over five years before being sentenced to 15 years in prison without a trial in September 2018.
Plea to Trump
After the sentencing, Kassem sent a letter to US President Donald Trump to inform him of his plight and to ask for help. He told Trump that he was diabetic and was going on a hunger strike, fully aware of his slim chances of surviving the strike.
The letter was passed on to Trump by New York Republican Representative Peter King, who represented Kassem’s brother and sister-in-law. “I pray that you have a plan for me. I no longer recognize myself. I don’t want my children to remember me this way, but I am going on a hunger strike because I am losing my will and I don’t know how else to get your attention,” Kassem wrote.
Kassem was on a liquid-only hunger strike intermittently before also cutting off liquids early this year. Four days after he stopped drinking liquids, he was transferred to a local hospital where he died.
It remains unknown whether the US president had ever received or opened the letter.
Americans detained in Egypt
There are at least six other US detainees held in Egyptian prisons. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has previously raised concerns about Americans detained in Egypt, including Kassem.
President Trump, however, has reportedly said that the Egyptian president is doing a “great job.” In April 2019, he said: “I think he’s doing a great job. We’ve never had a better relationship, Egypt and the United States than we do right now.”
In 2017, Trump did, however, negotiate the release of Egyptian-American charity worker Aya Hijazi and her husband from an Egyptian prison, where they had spent nearly three years after reportedly being falsely accused of human trafficking and sexually abusing children.
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