Family members of American activist arrested in Egypt
Posted February 16, 2021 10:20 a.m. EST
CNN — Egyptian authorities raided multiple homes and detained family members of Egyptian-American human rights activist Mohamed Soltan, his organization, the Freedom Initiative, said on Tuesday.
A lawyer for Soltan, who now lives in the United States after almost two years in prison in Egypt, said the arrests were part of a campaign against the family to try to silence him.
The homes of six relatives were raided in the early hours of Sunday morning in Mounofiya and Alexandria, a statement released Tuesday said. Soltan's cousins Moustafa Soltan and Khairi Soltan were immediately detained. A third cousin, Ahmed Soltan, was questioned about contact with Mohamed and told to turn himself in once a broken leg (unrelated to the raid) had healed.
CNN is reaching out the government of Egypt and the US State Department for a response.
Soltan's father, who was already in prison, was moved last summer after similar raids and arrests and his whereabout are unknown, the group said.
"Now the Egyptian regime is arresting his relatives to try to intimidate him into silence," said Soltan's lawyer Eric Lewis. "Such tactics have no place in the international community. Egypt cannot seek the benefits of membership in that community while denigrating human rights and behaving with impunity and lawlessness."
President Joe Biden has yet to call Egypt's leader, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and it's unclear whether he will. Since taking office by force in 2013, the former military general has presided over a brutal crackdown that has seen tens of thousands of political opponents and rights activists rounded up, arrested, jailed and killed. The Biden administration has not yet indicated what actions it may take against Egypt, which still receives more than one billion dollars a year in military aid.
Soltan's father was a Muslim Brotherhood member and was arrested in 2013, first sentenced to death but is now serving a life sentence in prison.
Soltan himself was arrested and sentenced to life in prison after having been shot by security forces during a protest against the military's takeover that became the site of a massacre of hundreds of Sisi's opponents. Soltan spent almost two years in prison, was tortured and went on a 489-day hunger strike before being released and deported back to the US in 2015.
Since then, Soltan has been actively campaigning against Sisi's repression and filed a lawsuit a Washington, DC federal court against former Egyptian Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi.
"As a direct result of his seeking to hold Beblawi accountable under a US statute that provides a remedy for torture victims, Soltan's family in Egypt was harassed and arrested in two separate raids by Egyptian security forces," the Freedom Initiative alleges.
The raids following the Beblawi lawsuit led to "enforced disappearance" for five of Soltan's cousins, according to Human Rights Watch. His father, Salah, was interrogated in prison about family members.
In those raids in June of 2020, Soltan's relatives were told by security officers that arrests could continue if Soltan didn't drop the lawsuit, Tuesday's statement said.