Political News

Pompeo expresses outrage over American's 'pointless' death in meeting with Egyptian President

Posted January 19, 2020 9:20 a.m. EST
Updated January 19, 2020 10:27 a.m. EST

— Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday met with Egypt's president and expressed outrage "over the pointless and tragic death" of Moustafa Kassem, an American citizen detained in the country.

Pompeo met Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi in Berlin, where both men are attending a conference aiming to bring peace to Libya.

"Met with President Sisi today and addressed the pointless and tragic death of detained U.S. citizen Moustafa Kassem in Egypt. On #Libya, President Sisi and I agreed on the urgent need for a return to a @UN-facilitated political process and a ceasefire," Pompeo tweeted Sunday morning.

Kassem, who once begged for President Donald Trump's help, died Monday of heart failure during a hunger strike after more than six years in an Egyptian prison. He was 54 years old.

The Egyptian American was detained in August 2013 in Cairo while visiting his family. He was beaten by security forces and held in pretrial detention for more than five years before being sentenced without due process in September 2018 to 15 years in prison, according to Pretrial Rights International and The Freedom Initiative, the two organizations that represented him during his case.

Shortly after his sentencing, Kassem sent a handwritten letter to Trump to inform him of his plight and implore the US President for his help.

"I pray that you have a plan for me," Kassem wrote. He told Trump that he was diabetic and was going on a hunger strike "knowing full well that I may not survive it."

According to Mohamed Soltan, the leader of The Freedom Initiative, Kassem was on a liquid-only hunger strike on and off before cutting off liquids last week. Shortly afterward, he was transferred to a local hospital, where he died.

"I am putting my life in your hands," Kassem wrote to Trump in that September 2018 message.

It is unclear if the President ever saw the letter, which was passed to him by Rep. Peter King, the New York Republican who represented Kassem's brother and sister-in-law. The White House declined to comment on the record about Kassem's death.

Last week, a bipartisan group of lawmakers and activists on Wednesday gathered on Capitol Hill to urge the administration not to let Kassem's death be in vain.

"He died in an Egyptian prison for no reason whatsoever," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat. "I'm a former prosecutor. I would call his death a homicide. It was as preventable as his imprisonment was unlawful."

The US State Department confirmed his death on Monday, with top senior State Department official David Schenker saying, "his death in custody was needless, tragic and avoidable."

Although Pompeo had raised concerns about Americans detained in Egypt, including Kassem, Trump has been less vocal about the Egyptian President's human rights abuses. The US President instead heaped praise on Sisi in April 2019, when he hosted the Egyptian leader at the White House.

"I think he's doing a great job," Trump said, calling Sisi a "great person."

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