As per a statement released by a State Department official, an American citizen, who had been on a hunger strike since the protests of 2013 in Egypt, has lost his life to heart failure. Describing the death as “needless, tragic and avoidable”, the Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs, David Schenker gave confirmation of the death of Moustafa Kassem at a briefing.
As per a statement by Kassem’s lawyers at Pretrial Rights International, the death came after an yearlong hunger strike. He stopped consuming liquids last Thursday, they added.
Originally from Egypt, Kassem emigrated to New York and worked there selling auto parts. He travelled back to visit his family in 2013. In the same year, then President Mohammed Morsi was expelled by the Egyptian military. Hailing from the Muslim Brotherhood, Morsi had been democratically elected in 2012.
August 2013 witnessed the forced dispersal of two large sit-ins of Morsi’s supporters. As per statements by rights groups, hundreds of people were killed. Kassem’s lawyers claim that at the time he was stopped by the Egyptian military officials, he was changing money at a shopping center. The lawyers statement reads, “After showing his US passport, the soldiers beat and detained him, later transferring him to law enforcement officials who continued this harsh treatment.”
It added, “A diabetic with a heart condition, prison officials limited access to necessary medications and medical care for the entirety of his detention.” Even though lawyers claim that there was no individualized evidence against him, Kassem was accused of participating in protests.
Kassem gave up on life four days after stopping consumption of liquids at the high-security Tora prison. Although he was transported to a hospital soon, it is evident that prison authorities did not carefully look after his diabetes and heart complications, which got worsened with his hunger strike.
The case is seen as one of the top focuses of the Trump administration, supported by Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Speaking about the worse condition of cells, brother-in-law, Mustafa Ahmed said, “The cells are filthy, infested with insects, rodents and snakes. They have no ventilation, sun or light. Moustafa and other prisoners have no access to clean water, a bed, a chair or any books.”
Giving details about Moustafa’s hunger strike, Ahmed quoted Kassem, “I know I may be able to survive for only a few weeks when I go on hunger strike. But I have no other option. I would rather starve to death than rot slowly and silently here in this hell.”
Another prisoner, who was detained in the same crackdown in Egypt, Mohamed Soltan was released in 2015. He is now advocating for other political prisoners in Egypt. Speaking to NPR’s Michele Kelemen, Soltan said, “He was at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Sources claim that Kassem’s family members were pressurised by security forces to bury him in the middle of the night. Soltan has requested the US administration to “do more” for bringing imprisoned US citizens home.