The US Secretary of State has raised the issue of a New York taxi driver who has been detained in Egypt for six years with its close ally.
Mike Pompeo brought up the issue of Moustafa Kassem with the Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry at a meeting in Washington yesterday.
Kassem was arrested on August 14 2013 for allegedly taking part in protests to overthrow Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, an allegation he has denied, saying he went out to a shopping mall to exchange money.
It was five days before he was set to return to New York, but the same day as the Rabaa massacre where over 1,000 protesters were killed by security forces, who also carried out widescale arrests.
Prosecutors have not presented evidence to prove he was in the square that day.
Kassem, who has diabetes, is held in a cramped prison cell infested with rodents and snakes with no ventilation or sunlight. His family have said that prison authorities don’t let him put his insulin in the fridge.
After he was sentenced to 15 years in jail in a mass trial of over 700 defendants in September 2018 Kassem started a hunger strike and his health severely deteriorated.
In February Kassem’s sister Iman said her brother was dying in prison after losing a significant amount of weight, losing his hair and losing consciousness several times.
As a dual US-Egypt citizen and father or two children, Kassem wrote a series of letters to US President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence pleading for them to intervene adding that they knew “full well that I might not survive.”
His lawyer has asked the Trump administration to put more pressure on Al-Sisi, his close ally, to secure Kassem’s release.
Since he has been imprisoned Senator John McCain has said that Trump must “demand the immediate release” of Kassem and other Americans in prison in Egypt and Pence has told Sisi that “justice demands” Kassem’s release, yet he remains behind bars.
Washington is Cairo’s closest Western ally and a top aid donor. Kassem’s mass trial and conviction was around the same time Pompeo authorised $1.2 billion of US military aid to Egypt despite other funding being previously withheld over human rights concerns.