A U.S. citizen who claimed he was wrongfully imprisoned in Egypt has died after six years, according to the State Department. He was 54 years old.
Mustafa Kassem was an Egyptian-born auto parts dealer from Long Island, New York. The man died of heart failure from a hunger strike he started last year to protest his “unjust incarceration,” his lawyers stated.
“His death in custody was needless, tragic and avoidable. I will continue to raise our serious concerns about human rights and Americans detained in Egypt at every opportunity,” David Schenker, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, told reporters.
An autopsy was ordered by Egypt’s chief prosecutor, as well as, an investigation into the medical condition of Kassem. It was confirmed on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020, that Kassem was transferred from the prison to Cairo University Hospital, where he passed away.
In August 2013, Kassem was visiting family in Cairo when he “was mistakenly swept up in a vast dragnet during the violent dispersal of an Islamist sit-in that killed hundreds of people,” according to Kassem’s lawyers.
That was the summer known as “Rabaa Massacre,” in which security forces came down on those who supported the ousted President Mohammed Morsi, who is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.
At that time, Kassem was exchanging money at a shopping mall near Rabaa al-Adawiya Square, when security authorities stopped him and asked to see his identification. Kassem handed over his U.S. passport, officers began to beat him and then they detained him. Before he was charged, he was held for five years.
In 2018, there was a mass trial of more than 700 defendants who were condemned by human rights organizations. Kassem was sentenced to 15 years in prison under an anti-protest law. After he was sentenced, Kassem stopped eating and only ingested vegetable juice, and according to his lawyers, last week he stopped drinking.
President Donald J. Trump secured the release of Egyptian-American rights advocate Aya Hijazi, who had been imprisoned in Egypt for three years on false charges. When Kassem heard of this, he appealed to the administration for help. The issue was raised last year to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, by Vice President Mike Pence.
Hijazi said, “It’s a scary precedent. Both for what it means for the many political prisoners on hunger strike in Egypt right now … but also for imprisoned U.S. citizens that have called on American authorities to respond to no avail.”
In the past month, Kassem was the fifth person to die in an Egyptian prison, according to Hijazi.
Hijazi said, “He was targeted not because he was a criminal, but because he was American.”
In addition to false imprisonment, Kassem had diabetes and there have been accusations that the prison did not care for his medical needs by activists.
By Jeanette Vietti
NBC: U.S. citizen dies in Egyptian prison after hunger strike
The Washington Post: He thought his U.S. passport and letters to Trump would save him from dying in an Egyptian prison. He was wrong.
USA Today: US citizen Mustafa Kassem dies in Egyptian prison after hunger strike
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