Hunger-striking American citizen released from Egyptian prison

iStock/Yasmine Issa(NEW YORK) — BY: HATEM MAHER

A hunger-striking medical student from New Jersey was released from a Cairo jail after serving more than a year in pre-trial detention for holding aloft a sign that read “Freedom to All Prisoners” in the iconic Tahrir Square, the human rights advocacy group that represents him said on Monday.

Mohamed Amashah, who is 24 and holds dual American-Egyptian citizenship, flew home on Monday following his release a day earlier, the Washington-based Freedom Initiative group said in a statement.

“Yesterday Egyptian-American political prisoner Mohamed Amashah was released from Egyptian prisons after 486 days of arbitrary detention,” the statement read. “Mohamed landed in Dulles International Airport this morning and returned home to Jersey City, New Jersey to be with his loved ones.”

Amashah started a hunger strike in March over fears that he might get infected with the coronavirus; Egypt’s crammed jail cells are notorious for their harsh conditions and poor hygiene standards.

The rights-group Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms claimed last month that more than a dozen detainees in Cairo’s Tora prison had contracted the highly contagious virus.

However, the Egyptian government denied the existence of any outbreaks in prisons, confirming only that an employee at the Tora prison had tested positive for the coronavirus after he died in May. The country has been halting prison visits by lawyers and families since March, citing COVID-19 worries.

Amashah, who was arrested in April 2019, faced charges of “misusing social media and aiding a terrorist group to achieve its goals,” referring to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.

Rights groups accuse the state of filing similar “trumped-up charges” against all dissidents, regardless of their political affiliations. The Egyptian government denies that, insisting that all detainees face due legal process.

Amashah’s release follows that of another dual Egyptian-American citizen. Reem Mohamed Desouky, a Pennsylvania teacher, was freed in early May after being held for almost 10 months for criticizing the government on Facebook.

In January, Mustafa Kassem, another U.S. citizen, died in a Cairo prison following a lengthy hunger strike, prompting Republican and Democratic lawmakers to call for sanctions against Egypt’s government and a review of U.S. foreign aid to the country.

“Amashah was forced to recuse his Egyptian Citizenship in exchange for his freedom. This allowed the government to use the foreigner deportation law to deport him out of the country,” Mohamed Soltan, the head of Freedom Initiative group, told ABC News.

“His release comes as a result of private and public pressure on the Egyptian government by the US administration and bipartisan congressional members in key committees demanding his release.”

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