Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressed sharp remarks “over the pointless and tragic death” of an American citizen being held in Egypt.
Pompeo tweeted that he had addressed the death of the Egyptian American, Moustafa Kassem, who was being detained in the country, when he met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi on Sunday.
Met with President Sisi today and addressed the pointless and tragic death of detained U.S. citizen Moustafa Kassem in Egypt. On #Libya, President Sisi and I agreed on the urgent need for a return to a @UN-facilitated political process and a ceasefire. pic.twitter.com/xhhRxQhjwM
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) January 19, 2020
“Met with President Sisi today and addressed the pointless and tragic death of detained U.S. citizen Moustafa Kassem in Egypt. On #Libya, President Sisi and I agreed on the urgent need for a return to a @UN-facilitated political process and a ceasefire,” the secretary of state wrote.
Pompeo “expressed outrage” over the death, according to State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus, during a meeting with el-Sisi that took place in Berlin where the men had been attending a summit aimed at ending Libya’s civil war.
Kassem died of heart failure last week following a hunger strike after more than six years in an Egyptian prison. The 54-year-old had been visiting with his family when he was detained in Cairo in 2013.
According to CNN:
He was beaten by security forces and held in pretrial detention for more than five years before being sentenced without due process in September 2018 to 15 years in prison, according to Pretrial Rights International and The Freedom Initiative, the two organizations that represented him during his case.
Shortly after his sentencing, Kassem sent a handwritten letter to Trump to inform him of his plight and implore the US President for his help.
Kassen was accused, without evidence, of taking part in anti-government demonstrations but he maintained his innocence while in prison and protested by starting a hunger strike last year.
“I pray that you have a plan for me,” he wrote in a September 2018 message to Trump in which he explained that he was diabetic but planned to undertake a hunger strike “knowing full well that I may not survive it.”
“I am putting my life in your hands,” he added.
The auto parts dealer from Long Island, New York was taken to a local hospital, where he died, after cutting off liquids in his liquid-only hunger strike last week. His death was instantly condemned as senseless and the Trump administration is being called on by critics to hold Egypt accountable as the U.S. grants the nation $1.2 billion in annual military aid. Trump hosted the Egyptian leader at the White House in April 2019.
“He died in an Egyptian prison for no reason whatsoever,” Sen. Patrick Leahy said at an event last week attended by a bipartisan group of lawmakers and activists.
“I’m a former prosecutor. I would call his death a homicide. It was as preventable as his imprisonment was unlawful,” the Vermont Democrat added.
Mustafa Kassem, a US citizen, just died after 6 years in an Egyptian prison.
Like 1000s of the country’s political prisoners, he should’ve never been detained.
Pompeo must remind Egypt that military aid is legally tied to releasing prisoners, including at least 6 US citizens.
— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) January 13, 2020
Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker expressed that Kassem’s “death in custody was needless, tragic and avoidable.”
“We send our sincere condolences to Mr. Kassem’s wife and family at this painful time,” the senior State Department official said last week. “I’ll continue to raise our serious concerns over human rights and Americans detained in Egypt at every opportunity, as will the entire team at the Department of State.”
Rep. Peter King, who represents the district Kassem was from, said the American citizen’s death was not “a partisan issue.”
“There are times that cry out for action — this is one of them,” the Republican lawmaker said. “I am calling on the administration, and the American government, to exert the strongest possible pressure on Egypt, including the threatening and enacting of sanctions if we have to.”
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