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Joint Letter: United States Should Condemn Egypt's Silencing of Human Rights Defenders

We, the undersigned groups, are appalled by evidence that the Egyptian government and intelligence apparatus persist in efforts to silence human rights defenders even beyond Egypt’s borders. We call on the U.S. government to condemn these actions.

According to Politico, during a June visit to Washington, D.C., the head of Egypt’s General Intelligence Services, Abbas Kamel, demanded that U.S. officials imprison American human rights defender Mohamed Soltan. Circulating a vaguely worded Egyptian document without legal force, Kamel claimed that the United States had agreed that Soltan would serve the rest of a life sentence that he had unjustly received in Egypt in a U.S. prison. Soltan had been arbitrarily arrested in Egypt in 2013, subjected to torture and other ill-treatment, and convicted in a grossly unfair trial; the Obama administration negotiated his release and return to the United States in 2015.

We urge the Biden administration to make clear publicly that the Egyptian government’s request to imprison Soltan will not be considered.

Since his return to the United States, Soltan has been a prominent target of systemic defamation campaigns by Egyptian government and pro-government media because of his human rights work. The state-led campaign falsely labels Soltan a terrorist, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, or an agent working on behalf of foreign actors. The defamatory claims frequently appear in Egyptian government statements as well as on government-sponsored media outlets in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. 

Soltan has reported to American authorities that he has been surveilled, harassed, and threatened by Egyptian officials on U.S. soil. Several members of his extended family in Egypt have been repeatedly arrested, harassed, and detained in apparent retaliation for his activism. In June 2020, Egyptian security officers removed Soltan’s father, Salah Soltan, from Wadi al-Natrun prison, where he had been imprisoned, to an undisclosed location. He remains forcibly disappeared at the time of writing more than one year later.

The coordinated harassment and intimidation campaign against Soltan is part of the Egyptian government’s broader repression of rights and freedoms in Egypt and aims to stigmatize human rights defenders, both nationally and abroad, and undermine the effectiveness of their work. The document handed over from Egypt’s intelligence chief to U.S. officials provides indisputable evidence that these campaigns are orchestrated from the highest reaches of the Egyptian government.

While on the campaign trail, then-presidential candidate Joe Biden promised "no more blank checks" for President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and specifically referenced the targeting of Soltan; President Biden and the State Department have not commented, however, on specific actions that the administration will take to hold the Egyptian government accountable for these violations.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken faces a deadline at the end of September on whether to release to Egypt $300 million in Fiscal Year 2020 Foreign Military Financing (FMF), which is conditioned by Congress on progress toward improving human rights. Secretary Blinken may waive these, citing U.S. national security interests. We urge the Secretary to consider the continuing widespread repression of rights and freedoms in Egypt and the brazen efforts of the Egyptian authorities to intimidate and stigmatize human rights defenders and other peaceful government critics in Egypt and abroad, including in the United States, and to send a clear message on human rights by not using the waiver.

As the U.S. Congress deliberates on the FY2022 military aid for Egypt, we also urge that FMF to Egypt be conditioned on the government of President al-Sisi taking tangible measures to end systematic and widespread human rights violations, prevent the misuse of assistance to commit violations, and hold security officials accountable for their role in such violations. These considerations should not be waived under any circumstances.

Anything short of these strong messages will allow the Egyptian government to continue acting with impunity in ways that directly threaten the lives and wellbeing of millions of Egyptians.

Signatories:

  • Amnesty International USA
  • Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
  • Committee for Justice
  • Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN)
  • Egyptian Front for Human Rights (EFHR)
  • Egyptian Human Rights Forum
  • EuroMed Rights
  • FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
  • Freedom House
  • The Freedom Initiative
  • Human Rights First
  • Human Rights Watch
  • International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
  • James W. Foley Legacy Foundation
  • MENA Rights Group
  • OMCT (World Organisation Against Torture), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
  • Open Society Foundations
  • PEN America
  • Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED)
  • US Committee to End Political Repression in Egypt

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