US lawmakers urge sanctions on Egypt over citizen death
Some U.S. lawmakers have urged the Trump administration to impose sanctions on Egyptian officials following the death of an American citizen during hunger strike in an Egyptian jail, where he was kept for over six years on trumped up charges.
Accusing U.S. President Donald Trump of abandoning Mustafa Kassem, who tried to reach out to the U.S. president several times for help to obtain freedom from the regime of Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy blamed the White House for inaction.
Kassem was arrested by Egyptian security forces in August 2013, who accused him of participating in mass protests when millions of Egyptians took to the streets to reject the military coup against the elected government of Mohammad Morsi.
"The White House refused to use its leverage to obtain his release. Instead, Trump has called President el-Sisi a 'great friend' and his 'favorite dictator'. That is as appalling as it is insulting to the families of President Sisi's victims," said the Vermont senator in a tweet.
Responding to him, Michelle Dunne, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a former U.S. diplomat, said: "There must be a consequence."
"A consequence that serves as a strong reminder to President Sisi that he can no longer flaunt the rule of law with impunity," Dunne said.
Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden said in tweet: "His death, after six years in an Egyptian jail, is an outrage. Americans unjustly detained anywhere in the world deserve our government's full support and relentless efforts to secure their release."
Pete King, a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives and the representative of Kassem, said in a tweet he "was unjustly accused and @RepTomSuozzi and I, along with @VP [Mike] Pence fought hard for his release."
He went on to say that their effort proved in vain and "Egypt continually refused".
"Sanctions must be imposed on Egypt and govt officials who carried this out or allowed it to happen," King added.
Democratic Senator Chris Murphy said the U.S. has not used the "leverage, influence" that it had.
Speaking alongside Leahy, King and many others at a news conference on Wednesday in Washington by the Project on Middle East Democracy, an advocacy group, Murphy went on to say: "We have to put the unfortunate death of Mustafa Kassem in the context of an administration that has frankly abdicated its responsibility to lead globally on the issue of civil rights and human rights."
Leahy and another Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen urged the Trump administration on Wednesday to sanction Egyptian officials responsible for Kassem's death under the Global Magnitsky Act.
ABC News reported that a senior State Department official said Monday it was "premature" to talk about any repercussions for Sisi's government.
Muslims on social media have also slammed the Trump administration for "showing him little attention because of his Egyptian and Muslim identity".
Who is Mustafa Kassem?
A taxi driver in New York City and father of two, Kassem was arrested on the night of Sisi's deadly crackdown on peaceful protesters who opposed the military coup to oust Morsi, who died during a trial last June.
Morsi died during a court appearance to face charges many believed were politically motivated.
Human rights groups reported close to 1,000 deaths and hundreds of arrests during the military crackdown ordered by the regime of Sisi against pro-democracy protesters in 2013.
In the mass trial with more than 700 co-defendants, the Egyptian court accused Kassem of attempting to overthrow the government and sentenced him to 15 years in jail without presenting any individual evidence against Kassem, according to his lawyers.
He began a hunger strike in September 2018 on the day of his sentencing, and tried to have his voice heard by Trump and Pence.
In one of his letters, he said he knows he "may not survive".
"I am losing my will and don't know how else to get your attention," he wrote to U.S. leaders.
Kassem died on Monday of heart failure, according to his lawyers at Pretrial Rights International.
Sisi's Egypt receives the most U.S. assistance after Israel, at about $1.5 billion each year.
Van Hollen said there are seven other U.S. citizens currently detained in Egypt, and Human right Watch says there is an estimated 60,000 other political prisoners in Egyptian prisons.