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Pompeo raises concerns over American prisoner Moustafa Kassem with Egypt

Kassem has previously been on hunger strike (Getty)

Date of publication: 10 December, 2019

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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo raised with Egypt the case of a New York taxi driver held for six years by the close US ally.

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Egypt, US, Kassem

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday raised with Egypt the case of a New York taxi driver held for six years by the close US ally.

The State Department said Pompeo brought up human rights as he discussed the "strong strategic partnership" with Egypt in a meeting with Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry.

"The secretary also raised concerns over press freedom, human rights and Americans detained in Egypt, including Moustafa Kassem," the State Department said in a statement.

Kassem, who is originally from Egypt, was arrested in 2013 on a visit back to Cairo as authorities cracked down on protests against the now president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who had seized power in a coup.

Kassem denied he was joining protests, saying he had gone out shopping during the visit back from New York to see his wife and two young children.

He was nonetheless sentenced last year in a mass trial with hundreds of defendants to 15 years in prison on charges of trying to overthrow the government, according to his lawyers. 

President Donald Trump has developed a warm relationship with Sisi, who overthrew an elected Islamist and has taken a hard line against the Muslim Brotherhood.

But human rights groups say Sisi has clamped down heavily on freedoms, with the Committee to Protect Journalists saying Egypt is the third biggest jailer of journalists in the world after China and Turkey.

Pompeo last month called publicly on Egypt to "respect freedom of the press and release journalists" after a raid on news outlet Mada Masr, whose journalists were ordered to unlock and hand over their phones and laptops.

More talks on dam

The Egyptian foreign minister was in Washington for the latest talks involving Ethiopia and Sudan to resolve a rift over a massive dam that Ethiopia is building on the Nile.

Sisi asked for Trump's mediation out of fear that the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam would disrupt the river that provides more than 90 percent of parched Egypt's drinking water.

In a joint statement, the three countries agreed to keep working to their goal of a January 15 deal and said that two further meetings would focus on technical details.

The three foreign ministers "recognize that there are substantial benefits to all three countries in developing rules and guidelines to address drought conditions," said the statement released by the US Treasury Department, which is leading the mediation.

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