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EXCLUSIVE NEWS: US-Egypt citizen Moustafa Kassem survived Abu Zabaal death van

Egyptian-American Mustafa Kassem [Twitter/haythamabokhal1]
Egyptian-American Mustafa Kassem [Twitter/haythamabokhal1]

Moustafa Kassem was one of eight people to survive being locked in a police van outside Abu Zabaal Prison in 2013 alongside 37 other detainees who suffocated to death inside, one of the survivors in an adjacent van has told MEMO.

Kassem later became the first US citizen to die in an Egyptian prison cell following consistent medical neglect for his diabetes and thyroid disorder throughout his incarceration.

Kassem was first arrested shortly after the Rabaa massacre on 18 August 2013 when a number of demonstrators and passers-by were rounded up and put into several of Egypt's blue prison vans.

In the van that Kassem was in, there were 45 prisoners in a space big enough for 24.

They were driven to Abu Zabaal Prison on the outskirts of Cairo and left in the van outside for six hours without water, recalls Ali Ahmed, an activist who participated in the 2011 uprising.

It was summer in Egypt and the temperatures regularly topped 40 degrees. The only windows in Egypt's police vans are small and situated very high up, with mesh over the top of them.

Inside Ali's van, the prisoner next to him had been shot in his thigh and prison guards were hitting him on the bullet wound with the back of their rifles. "Kill me now," the prisoner said to Ali. "I can't stand it anymore."

The officers ordered them out of the van, doused them in petrol, and threatened to set them all on fire, before ordering them back into the van.

Inside, they could hear the prison guards asking for a chainsaw to open Kassem's van because after the people inside died, they fell against the doors which opened inwards.

Ali, who now lives in exile in Spain after the authorities hounded him on account of his activism, told MEMO that it was widely reported the prisoners died from asphyxiation after prison guards threw tear gas in the van, but he believes they died long before that and the gas was thrown in to cover up how much they had suffered.

Following the incident Ali and Moustafa Kassem were put on the same wing in Tora Prison that consisted of 18 cells. During break time they were allowed to visit each other's cells.

READ: 18 days

When he was arrested Kassem was working as a taxi driver in New York and was in Egypt visiting family. He was accused of being a spy and taking part in protests.

Kassem denied all charges against him and said he was changing money at a shopping mall near the square when he was asked to show his ID.

When the police saw his American passport, they threw it on the ground, stamped on it, then started beating him and then detained him.

Kassem was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment in a mass trial with over 700 defendants after serving five years without charge.

In September last year, the Committee for Justice estimated that around 958 prisoners have died from medical neglect or torture since the 2013 coup.

During Kassem's imprisonment top US officials advocated for his release, but they never secured it. The tragedy failed to break the US-Egypt special relationship and US military aid to Egypt continued to be delivered at $1.3 billion a year.

Kassem wrote to Trump during his imprisonment and said, "I'm putting my life in your hands."

Ali says Kassem was asked multiple times to give up his Egyptian citizenship in exchange for his release, a common demand made of political prisoners, but he refused.

Former political prisoner Mohammed Soltan, who was also imprisoned with Kassem, was forced to give up his Egyptian citizenship before he was released to the US.

"The US should help me as a US citizen," Kassem told Ali. "I'm innocent and oppressed and they will help me."

At that time protests still continued outside in the streets so Kassem had hope that he would actually be released. It was an act of resistance, says Ali, that won him respect among his fellow inmates that he hoped would benefit the revolution though he himself advised Kassem to do it.

Ali heard from mutual friends that Kassem later tried to give up his Egyptian citizenship to survive but the request was refused. He died from a heart attack whilst on hunger strike in protest against injustice and maltreatment.

Sisi Era - Cartoon [Latuff/MiddleEastMonitor]

Sisi Era – Cartoon [Carlos Latuff/MiddleEastMonitor]

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