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US upholds ex-Egypt PM's immunity amid Soltan torture lawsuit

Egypt's former prime minister Hazem El-Beblawi addressing the media in Cairo on 24 February 2014 [AFP/Getty Images]
Egypt's former prime minister Hazem El-Beblawi in Cairo on 24 February 2014 [AFP/Getty Images]

The Biden administration has upheld former Egyptian Prime Minister Hazem Beblawi's immunity, which has drawn a wave of criticism from Democratic lawmakers and rights activists.

"This attempt to insulate a torturer from accountability in US courts is a blank cheque to Egypt's dictator & wholly antithetical to Biden administration's stated commitments to a human rights-centered foreign policy," wrote former Egyptian political prisoner Mohamed Soltan in a statement that was shared on Twitter.

Last year, Soltan filed a lawsuit in Washington DC against Beblawi for overseeing the torture he was subjected to whilst in an Egyptian prison.

Soltan was shot, arrested, and imprisoned at the time of the Rabaa massacre in Egypt in August 2013.

Security forces detained him and convicted him in a mass trial of "spreading false news" and "disturbing national security."

Soltan says he was targeted for particularly harsh abuse because he spoke out about the 2013 Rabba and Al-Nahda Square massacres, because he had US citizenship and because his father was a deputy minister under the Mohamed Morsi government.

In jail, he was burnt with cigarettes and beaten until his ribs were broken. The guards goaded him and encouraged him to commit suicide.

READ: Calls on Egypt to release Youssef Qaradawi's daughter

"Beblawi is not only responsible for my imprisonment & torture, but also for ratifying Egypt's draconian protest law used to imprison tens of thousands of innocent Egyptians."

"That same law led to the sentencing of US citizen Mustafa Kassem to 15 years in prison, where he died," he wrote in the statement.

After Soltan filed the lawsuit in June five of his cousins were forcibly disappeared though they have since been released. Egyptian authorities then arrested six of his relatives in February.

The whereabouts of his father, who was detained in the same prison as his son, have been unknown for over nine months.

Despite this, last Thursday the Justice Department submitted a formal declaration urging a federal court to dismiss Soltan's case because Beblawi held diplomatic immunity at the time the suit commenced.

Biden has famously promised no more blank cheques for Trump's favourite dictator Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, though he drew widespread criticism when in February his administration authorised the sale of $200 million weapons to Egypt.

In the statement, Soltan said he was "deeply disappointed with the State Department's attempt to immunise a torturer with a history of orchestrating mass-scale human rights violations."

"It has real-life implications on my family's life…" he continued. "It has further endangered my life here in the US, and the lives and wellbeing of my family in Egypt.

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