CAIRO — Mohamed Soltan, an American citizen who spent nearly two years in an Egyptian prison on charges that he supported an Islamist protest, has been released by the Egyptian authorities and flew back to the United States on Saturday, his family said in a statement.
Mr. Soltan, 27, who had spent much of his detention on a hunger strike, was sentenced to life in prison in April. Human rights groups denounced the charges against him as political in nature, and the Obama administration, which had criticized the court’s verdict and voiced concern about Mr. Soltan’s failing health, had appealed for his release on humanitarian grounds.
After his sentencing, Mr. Soltan, a dual citizen, relinquished his Egyptian citizenship, apparently paving the way for his release under a legal decree that gives President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi the ability to exile foreign citizens convicted of crimes.
“After extensive efforts, the U.S. government has successfully secured Mohamed’s deportation back home to the U.S., mercifully concluding this dark chapter for Mohamed and our family,” the statement said.
Mr. Soltan’s release was at least the second time that Mr. Sisi has resorted to deportation in a case that brought international criticism of the government. In February, the authorities deported Peter Greste, an Australian journalist who was convicted on politicized charges along with two colleagues from Al Jazeera English.
Mr. Greste’s Egyptian co-workers, though, were left behind and are still facing trial, symbolizing the plight of thousands of other political prisoners for whom deportation is not an option. A second Al Jazeera journalist, Mohamed Fahmy, holds a Canadian passport and relinquished his Egyptian citizenship, possibly making him eligible for deportation under Mr. Sisi’s decree. But Baher Mohamed, the third Al Jazeera journalist, does not have a foreign passport.
Mr. Soltan had refused for most of his imprisonment to give up his Egyptian citizenship, but “had no other choice” after receiving the life sentence, according to one of his lawyers, Maha Youssef.
Mr. Soltan, who grew up in the Midwest and graduated from Ohio State University in 2012, was arrested during a sweeping crackdown on Islamists after the military ouster of President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013.
Though Mr. Soltan’s father, like Mr. Morsi, had been a senior leader in the Muslim Brotherhood, the younger Mr. Soltan was not a member of the group and had been critical of Mr. Morsi’s leadership, his family said. But he joined demonstrators protesting Mr. Morsi’s removal at a sit-in at Rabaa al-Adawiya square that was violently dispersed by security forces on Aug. 14, 2013. He was shot in the arm, and arrested at his home 11 days later. His father, Salah Sultan, was also arrested.
Detained for more than a year without trial, Mr. Soltan went on a hunger strike that he chronicled in letters that were smuggled out of prison and publicized by his family. “I have lost the sense of hunger, I lose consciousness often, I wake up to bruises and a bloody mouth almost daily,” he wrote in a letter last November. “My body has become numb as it eats away at itself.”
He was sentenced in April, along with dozens of other people in one of the many mass trials that Egypt‘s military-backed government has used to prosecute its opponents over the last two years. In a report about the April trial, Human Rights Watch said the government had “presented no evidence of criminal behavior besides the testimony of one police officer.”
In a statement on Saturday, a senior State Department official said the government welcomed “the conclusion to this case and we are glad Mr. Soltan will now be reunited with his family in the United States.”
Mr. Soltan, who was traveling with a nurse and an American consular official, was due to arrive in Washington on Saturday evening, his sister said.
“As you can imagine, after spending several hundred days on hunger strike, and many months in solitary confinement, Mohamed’s health is dire,” his family said. “He will receive medical treatment as soon as he arrives on U.S. soil and will spend the immediate future with his family recovering.”
Merna Thomas contributed reporting from Cairo.
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(via NY Times)