(Beirut) – An American citizen who spent nearly two years in an Egyptian prison filed a civil suit on June 1, 2020 against former Egyptian Prime Minister Hazem al-Beblawy in a United States court, Human Rights Watch said today. The plaintiff, Mohamed Soltan, alleges that al-Beblawy – who now lives in the US and is an executive director at the International Monetary Fund – is responsible for his attempted extrajudicial execution as well as his torture in detention in Cairo between 2013 and 2015.
Soltan’s suit states that in July and August 2013, he participated in a largely peaceful sit-in at Cairo’s Rab’a Square opposing the military’s forcible removal of former President Mohamed Morsi. Egyptian security forces, following a government plan, violently dispersed the protesters on August 14, 2013, killing at least 817 people in a few hours in what most likely constituted crimes against humanity.
“Egyptian authorities never investigated the killings at Rab’a Square or the ensuing repression, leaving any justice effectively out of reach for victims,” said Balkees Jarrah, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch. “This US suit may be a step toward setting the record straight about what happened and who was responsible.”
The story of Soltan, former prisoner-turned-human rights activist, attracted significant media attention while in prison as photos of him were published showing him emaciated and sometimes unconscious.
Al-Beblawy served as prime minister of the interim government from July 2013 until he resigned in February 2014. Soltan’s suit was filed in the US District Court for the District of Columbia under the Torture Victim Protection Act, a federal law that allows claims for torture and extrajudicial killing committed by officials in foreign countries.
If successful, the suit would not lead to criminal penalties, but would result in compensation for any ill-treatment for Soltan. The suit names a number of other “unsued” defendants, including Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, current Egyptian president and the defense minister at the time of Rab’a dispersal; General Mohamed Ibrahim, the former interior minister; and General Mahmoud Sayed Sha’rawi, the former assistant interior minister and deputy director of the National Security Agency. The suit says they could be added as formal defendants if they travel to the United States.
Soltan’s suit alleges that during the dispersal of Rab’a protesters, he was shot in the left arm. The bullet fractured his humerus bone. He said that other shots barely missed him. He alleged in the suit that he “was deliberately targeted that day for his work with reporters.”
In detention, Soltan alleged in the suit, security agents beat him repeatedly with batons and whips, including on his wounded arm, and put out cigarettes in his back. He said that prison officers deprived him of medical care and placed him in a cell without a mattress, toilet, sunlight, or proper ventilation. He also said that the officers abused him physically and psychologically, in an attempt to force him to end a hunger strike that he started in January 2014.
He says that officers slipped razor blades under the cell door, encouraging him to take his own life, and deprived him of sleep by using spotlights. The authorities released Soltan in May 2015 after he gave up his Egyptian citizenship, benefiting from a law al-Sisi issued granting himself the power to release foreign nationals, and dual-nationals if they give up their Egyptian citizenship.
The Rab’a massacre, which Egyptian authorities have still failed to investigate seven years later, was the worst mass killing of protesters in Egypt’s recent history, Human Rights Watch said.
Human Rights Watch has repeatedly called for an independent, international inquiry into the Rab’a massacre and urged judicial authorities in other countries to investigate and prosecute where possible under their national laws those implicated in horrific abuses such as the systematic torture and extrajudicial killings of protesters.
No government official or member of the security forces has faced investigation or prosecution in Egypt for alleged abuses committed at Rab’a, and scores of survivors have been sentenced to death or lengthy prison sentences in unfair trials, Human Rights Watch said. In many of these trials, as in Soltan’s case, Human Rights Watch found that authorities failed to observe fair trial guarantees, and that convictions were mostly based on security officers’ allegations with scant evidence.
“Soltan’s case is a stark reminder of one of the worst crimes in modern Egyptian history and the lack of justice ever since,” Jarrah said.