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The New Arab

An Egyptian-American died in prison because Egypt ignored his release paperwork

Lawmakers have called for a review of Washington's relationship with Cairo [Getty]

Date of publication: 30 January, 2020

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Moustafa Kassem was arrested in 2013 shortly after President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi seized power in a military coup.
An American citizen who died in an Egyptian prison this month could have been released months ago but wasted away on hunger strike while Cairo ignored his release paperwork, his lawyer has said.

Moustafa Kassem was arrested in 2013 and convicted in a mass trial alongside more than 700 co-defendants of trying to overthrow the government of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

The 54-year-old New York taxi driver continued to protest his innocence until he died in mid-January after more than six years in captivity. Kassem had been on a liquid-only hunger strike since late last year and had stopped drinking fluids four days before his death.

Egyptian officials had told the US government that Kassem would be eligible for release and deportation if he gave up his Egyptian citizenship. He officially submitted papers to relinquish his citizenship more than six months ago, his lawyer told NBC News

Lawyer Praveen Madhiraju said Cairo failed to take action on processing the papers, condemning Kassem to die in prison.

Fellow American Mohammed Soltan - who was imprisoned at the same time as Kassem - was released in 2015 just two weeks after filing papers to give up his citizenship.

Egypt failed to take action despite pressure from Vice President Mike Pence, who took a personel interest in Kassem's case, who urged his release with Egypt's foreign minister as recently as December.

Despite that, the Trump administration "didn't do everything they could have", Madhiraju said.

Cairo receives around $1.5 billion in aid from the US every year, making it the second largest recipient of American assistance after Israel.

Trump has avoiding criticising the Egyptian regime, even calling Sisi his "favourite dictator" last year.

A number of lawmakers called for the Trump administration to review its relationship with Cairo over Kassem's death earlier this month.

Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy termed his death a "homicide" and accused the president of "abandoning" an American citizen. 

Republican Pete King, who was Kassem's representative in Congress, called his death "an absolute disgrace".

"Egypt needs us more than we need them," he said, urging a review of US aid to Egypt and the implementation of sanctions against Sisi's government.

Both Leahy and Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen also called on the president to implement sanctions on Egyptian officials responsible for Kassem's death under the Global Magnitsky Act.

"I'm extremely troubled that the Egyptian government chose to sit on the paperwork to release Moustafa Kassem for months, essentially sealing his fate to die in their prisons," Democratic Senator Chris Murphy said in a statement on Thursday.

"President Trump's complete disregard for human rights abroad clearly sent a signal to Sisi and others that they don't have to take American requests on these issues seriously," he added.

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