Soltan Family/Al Jazeera

Family of US citizen on hunger strike in Egypt prison says health failing

Ohio State graduate was arrested in peaceful anti-coup protest in Cairo while working as a volunteer citizen journalist

The health of a U.S. citizen imprisoned in Egypt is rapidly deteriorating, his family has said, prompting renewed calls on American authorities to push Cairo for his release.

Mohammed Soltan, 27, has been on hunger strike for over 230 days, protesting his treatment at Egypt's infamous Tora prison in southern Cairo. 

“Two days ago, his blood became so thin that he bled from the mouth while sleeping. They took him to the ICU, cleaned him up, and sent him back to solitary confinement [in Tora prison],” Soltan's brother Omar told Al Jazeera on Tuesday.

“We’ve tried every angle — congressional representatives, speaking to people from the State Department, the Embassy … we get the same answer every time: ‘This is the Egyptian judicial process and we can’t interfere,’” Omar added.

Soltan suffers from pulmonary embolisms, a condition that requires that he take blood thinners to avoid having a stroke.

“He’s already had three strokes, just in the time he has been on hunger strike, and he’s in danger of getting a fourth,” Omar said. “Then the prison hospital gave him too much blood thinners to the extent that if he was poked by a needle he could bleed to death in minutes.”

It was after an apparent overdose on blood thinners that Soltan was found unconscious and bleeding in his cell on Sunday, Omar said.

Al Jazeera could not reach the Egyptian Interior Ministry Prison Service for comment at the time of publication.

Victim of a crackdown

Egyptian Mohamed Soltan's brother Omar Soltan hold banner as a group of Egyptian, American and non-governmental organization representatives in Washington gather to protest for the release of Mohamed Soltan in front of the Egyptian Embassy in Washington, U.S., on April 21, 2014.
Erkan Avci/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Soltan, a graduate of Ohio State University who returned to Egypt in 2013 to help take care of his mother, was arrested for his participation in an nonviolent, anti-coup sit-in organized by Muslim Brotherhood supporters at Cairo’s Rabaa Square. Hundreds were killed in a confrontation at the square when security forces violently dispersed participants on Aug. 14, 2013.

Soltan had joined a group of volunteer civilian journalists that were covering the sit-in, because as a fluent English-speaker, he was able to speak to foreign media outlets, Omar said. 

The protests came a month after the Muslim Brotherhood-backed Mohamed Morsi, the country’s first democratically elected president, was overthrown in a military coup.

Omar said his brother joined the sit-in in Cairo's Rabaa Square, not because he supported Morsi but in an effort to protect the democratic process.

Omar continued: “On Aug. 14 when security forces dispersed [the protest] Mohamed was talking on the phone to Al Jazeera English … one of the reporters next to him was shot in the head. He ducked down and the bullet hit the area where he was standing, as if they were aiming for his head.”

“The next bullet hit his arm,” Omar added.

Just weeks later, security forces were looking for Soltan’s father, Salah, a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood. When the authorities couldn’t find him, they arrested Soltan and four others who happened to be in the family's house, Omar said. Omar said he believes the arrests of his brother and his father's friends were meant “to lure my father.” All five are still behind bars, it is believed.

Soltan’s father Salah was later arrested and also remains in prison.

Soltan and his father and friends are only a few of around 16,000 people who were arrested in the crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood supporters and anti-coup activists following Morsi’s ouster, according to figures confirmed by the Egyptian government.

Human rights groups have criticized Egyptian authorities for what they called widespread repression and attacks on freedom of expression of the press.

“In the first days, we didn’t know where [Mohammed] was,” Omar said.

The family say he was moved around several different prisons, and was tortured in each.

“They made him and other prisoners run in between a line of police officers that beat them with sticks and metal rods,” Omar said.

Security forces allegedly hit Soltan on his arm where metal plates had been inserted during surgery after he was shot at Rabaa Square.

“His cell mate was a doctor, and he had to perform surgery on him on the ground of the cell floor to remove the plates from his arm. Because of the torture, the plates had moved and were starting to affect his muscles,” Omar said. “No painkillers, no anesthesia … friends had to hold him down he was in so much pain. He fainted from the pain.”

Egyptian authorities eventually accused Soltan, along with 54 others, of “forming an operations room to direct the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood group to defy the government during the Rabaa sit-in dispersal and to spread chaos in the country,” according to a statement released by the prosecutor general’s office in February reported by Daily News Egypt, an online news website.

None has been sentenced. Instead, their detention appears to have been extended every 45 days.

'Forgotten American citizen'

Soltan’s apparent failing health means it is now more important than ever to secure his release, Omar said, citing little feedback from U.S. authorities on his family's multiple requests that Washington demand his release. 

The U.S. State Department did not respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment.

Omar cited previous success in freeing U.S. citizens held in Egypt. In 2012, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to Egypt personally to intervene in the detention of two Americans who were arrested with dozens of other NGO workers by the then-military interim government.

“Clinton herself went to Egypt and applied the necessary pressure and asked for their release and they were put on a plane, the charges were dropped, and they were sent home,” Omar said.

Tariq Ramadan, a professor at Oxford University and president of Brussels-based think tank European Muslim Network, said the U.S. has “forgotten” Soltan.

“Forgotten American citizen, the corrupt power of al-Sisi wants him to die and the government of the United States does not care,” Ramadan said on Twitter on Monday.


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