Kassem, who was born in Egypt but was a naturalized U.S. citizen of Bethpage, New York, was arrested at a shopping center in Cairo in August 2013 while visiting relatives. He was held for five years in pretrial detention. Then, in a mass trial in September 2018, he was convicted of trying to overthrow the government of President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi and sentenced to serving 15 years behind bars.
After his sentence, Kassem wrote a letter to Trump asking him to intervene. “I am putting my life in your hands,” he wrote in the letter, which was smuggled out of the Egyptian prison where he was being held.
He also declared a hunger strike only liquid at that time. Kassem recently stopped drinking fluids and died Monday, according to Pretrial Rights International, a defense group.
The Egyptian attorney general opened an investigation into his death this week.
Trump publicly hugged Sissi and received him at the White House, even when human rights activists warn that the authoritarian Sissi government has arrested tens of thousands of people, including journalists and activists, repressing freedom of expression and dissent.
In their letter, Van Hollen and Leahy accuse Trump of emboldening Sissi’s repression against Americans and Egyptians.
“US. Efforts to ensure the release of Mustafa Kassem, or other Americans detained in Egypt, are severely undermined when he refers to President Sisi as a” good man “and his” favorite dictator, “says the letter. these, which contravene the values of our nation, embolden President Sisi to illegally detain and mistreat Americans, and participate in the brutal repression of the rights of his own people. ”
Trump has repeatedly claimed that freeing detained Americans abroad is a priority for his administration. But at least six Americans and two permanent residents of the United States are “unjustly detained” in Egypt, according to the senators’ letter.
In January 2018, Vice President Pence told reporters that he had expressed concern about Kassem’s imprisonment with Sissi. But the New York City taxi driver with two young children was never released.
In the summer, during a trip to the Middle East and North Africa, Van Hollen said he met with Sissi and raised the issue of Kassem’s arrest directly.
“He stated that there were reasons for the arrest. I pressed him on what the reasons were, and he didn’t have good answers, “Van Hollen said in a telephone interview with The Post.” He said he would investigate, but there was no follow-up. “
“It is quite clear that President Sissi and the Egyptian regime believe they can escape the detention and death of Americans,” Van Hollen added.
Regarding the sanctions, he said, “the administration should consider everyone involved, to the top.”
Other lawmakers have also condemned the murder of Kassem. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) tweeted What is it “[c]totally outrageous that this has happened at the hands of a government that is supposed to be a partner. “