After suffering from three strokes, two comas, and undergoing makeshift surgery from a prison floor, a jailed U.S. citizen in Egypt may finally have his chance at freedom.
That is, of course, if the Egyptian government honors requests from the United States to release Mohamed Soltan in order to save his life.
The 27-year-old, who also holds Egyptian citizenship, is more than 330 days into the longest hunger strike in recorded Egyptian prison history. He has been abstaining from food and only consuming water with sugar.
As a result, his health is rapidly deteriorating, according to Amnesty International. He recently entered critical care for the fourth time.
“It’s his only means of peaceful protest...he has no other means besides harming his own health. He has to,” says his brother, Omar Soltan.
In October, the Cairo Criminal Court overseeing the case rejected appeals from the U.S. State Department to release Soltan on health grounds. The request came in the form of a letter as a follow-up to a meeting President Obama had weeks prior with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, where he raised the issue.
Since then, the U.S. approach to the case has been consistent, despite calls for increased political pressure on the Egyptian government from human rights groups.
A U.S. State Department official told The Stream in a statement: “The United States has requested the release of Mr. Soltan on bail on humanitarian grounds…We remain deeply concerned about Mr. Soltan’s health, and are aware of reports that he recently slipped in and out of a coma.
We are investigating these reports and will continue to provide Mr. Soltan with all possible consular services.”
Supporters of Soltan, however, say U.S. efforts thus far have been ineffective in helping his case.
“It’s not enough to just ask them to release him. They have to invoke international law and say ‘you have one of our citizens imprisoned arbitrarily, under ridiculous false charges...it’s your duty to send him back,’” says Suzanne Adely, a human rights lawyer and co-chair of the MENA committee for the National Lawyers Guild.
“None of us are under the illusion that the U.S. will say to the Egyptian government, ‘release this man,’ and that Egypt will listen. I still don’t think the U.S. has done everything they can...the U.S. is just interested in maintaining their relationship with Egypt, despite egregious human rights abuses.”
Soltan was arrested by Egyptian authorities on August 25, 2013. He’s accused of being part of a group aimed at spreading violence during the August 2013 anti-coup protests. He also faces charges for spreading falsified news aimed at endangering national security.
Soltan was a popular citizen journalist who was known for tweeting out pictures of the events at Rabaa Al-Adaweya, during which hundreds of peaceful protesters were killed by military forces.
Human rights activists say the charges against him are driven by a wider crackdown on press freedom, as well as political dissent.
His father, Salah Soltan, was an outspoken anti-coup activist who frequently took the stage at Rabaa square, and some have associated him with the Muslim Brotherhood, though he denies that affiliation.
Mohamed Soltan’s family say they are encouraged by the U.S. calling for his release after being behind bars for more than a year, but wonder if it’s too little, too late.
“Only after he was hospitalized for months did we then find out they had called for his release on medical grounds,” says Omar Soltan.
“I want to convey the urgency of the situation...Mohamed, at any moment, could sink into another [coma] again and at one point, he won’t wake up.”
The Egyptian government has not responded to calls requesting comment on how they plan to respond to the United States’ continued pleas for Soltan’s release.
You can read the U.S. State Department comments in full below.
Watch a special LIVE edition of The Stream Monday, December 29th at 12:30pm EST when we speak with Mohamed Soltan’s brother, Omar Soltan. Join the conversation on Twitter and Facebook using #AJAMStream and we may share your comments during the live television episode.