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US State Department declares ex-Egyptian PM immune from prosecution for torture

Hazem el-Beblawi currently serves on the IMF's executive board [Getty]

Date of publication: 18 July, 2020

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Rights groups argue the US has been blackmailed by Cairo to dismiss a lawsuit against Egypt's former interim prime minister.
The US State Department has declared a former Egyptian prime minister should be immune from a lawsuit brought by an Egyptian-American activist to hold him liable for torture, according to court filings on Friday.

The move follows an alleged campaign of pressure from Cairo, which has sought to block the lawsuit against ex-Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi.

Beblawi, who currently serves on the International Monetary Fund's executive board, is the subject of a lawsuit filed by Mohamed Soltan, who was jailed for two years in Egypt until 2015.

After the lawsuit was filed, Egyptian security services raided the homes of Soltan's relatives in Egypt, detaining five men. Authorities also interrogated his father, a jailed Muslim Brotherhood leader.

Egypt is now thought to be using its strategic partnership with the US in the Middle East as leverage to protect Beblawi.

"If the State Department had any discretion here and they chose to use it to protect this guy, that would be outrageous," Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.) was quoted by The Washington Post as saying.

Malinowski was one of  11 House lawmakers who signed a letter urging the government of President ABdel Fattah al-Sisi to release Soltan's relatives.

"If I were at the State Department, my message to the Egyptians would be: You can challenge this case in a lawful manner and ask us for help, or you can kidnap the relatives of American citizens, in which case you can go to hell," Malinowski added.

Citing the 1991 US Torture Victim Protection Act, Soltan's team argue Beblawi is liable prosecution and is not afforded protections usually given to leaders of foreign countries.

The State Department has said that Beblawi still qualifies as a diplomatic envoy as Egypt's "principal resident representative" to the IMF, according to a certification from July 7.

Egypt has also argued for Beblawi's immunity, with the former prime minister's lawyers quoting Egypt's Washington embassy as saying: "Mr. El Beblawi has immunity from suit, not only by virtue of his current diplomatic status, but also personal immunity due to his official position of Prime Minister of Egypt at the time of the events cited."

Soltan's team has been given until July 28 to respond to Beblawi's bid to dismiss the case.

Torture

Prior to his arrest in 2013, Soltan had been camped out in Cairo's Rabaa Al-Adawiya alongside supporters of deposed Egyptian president Mohamad Morsi when security forces raided the camp, massacring more than 1,000 people.

Soltan was later detained by security forces after speaking to journalists who reported on the massacre. 

He subsequently spent 643 days in multiple detention centres, where he was beaten, denied medical treatment and burned with cigarettes.

According to court documents, guards in one prison encouraged him to die by suicide and left him alone in a cell with a decomposing corpse.

Beblawi worked alongside Sisi and then-intelligence chief Abbas Kamel - both listed as "unsued defendants" in the case - to "direct and monitor" Soltan's mistreatment, the lawsuit alleges.

He was finally released from prison and deported to the US after a prolonged hunger strike of more than a year.

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