U.S. citizen dies in Egyptian custody after 6 years in prison

Inside an Egyptian jail
(Image credit: Mohamed El-Shahed/AFP via Getty Images)

Mustafa Kassem, an American citizen detained in Cairo in August 2013 while visiting family in Egypt, died Monday after more than six years in Egyptian custody, according to the two groups representing his case, Pretrial Rights International and The Freedom Initiative. He was 65 and the given cause was heart failure. Mohamed Soltan, a former Egyptian political prisoner and head of The Freedom Initiative, said Kassem had been on a liquid-only hunger strike on and off for years before stopping the liquids last week.

Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker told reporters Monday that Kassem's "death in custody was needless, tragic, and avoidable," adding that he will "continue to raise our serious concerns over human rights and Americans detained in Egypt at every opportunity, as will the entire team at the Department of State." Soltan told CNN he knows of at least six other Americans in Egyptian custody. A senior State Department official told CNN it's "still premature" to discuss punishing Egypt over the death of a U.S. citizen, but "we are really concerned about this and we're going to — we're going to talk about it, about what we're going to do."

Kassem, sentenced to 15 years in prison in September 2018 after what CNN calls a trial lacking all due process, asked President Trump soon after to intercede on his behalf in a letter hand-delivered by Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.). "I pray that you have a plan for me," Kassem told Trump in the letter, which Trump may or may not have read. "I am going on a hunger strike because I am losing my will and I don't know how else to get your attention. ... I am putting my life in your hands."

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