(Beirut, February 16, 2022) – Egyptian authorities should urgently provide health care to Salah Soltan, the detained father of a prominent Egyptian rights defender living in the US, or immediately release him to receive medical attention and investigate claims of torture, 19 human rights organizations said today.
On January 26, 2022, Salah Soltan, 63, an official in the government of former President Mohamed Morsy and the father of human rights defender Mohamed Soltan appeared to be in critical health during a prison visit, a relative said. Salah Soltan has been detained since September 2013, and has been subjected to enforced disappearance since June 15, 2020, punctuated by three brief supervised visits. Soltan’s health was so poor during the January 2022 visit that he was unable to support his own weight and was carried into the room by two guards, according to the relative. Soltan told the relative that prison officials had not granted his multiple requests to see a doctor as well as the medication and medical equipment he needs for his multiple health conditions.
“Salah Soltan’s deteriorating health appears to be the result of reprisals for his son Mohamed’s advocacy in the US,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
Salah Soltan, a legal permanent resident in the US, lived and worked in the US for more than a decade prior to his September 2013 arrest for opposing the Egyptian military’s ousting of Morsy, the elected president. He was sentenced to life in prison in a September 2017 mass trial that was marred by extensive due process and fair trial violations.
Egyptian authorities forcibly disappeared Soltan on June 15, 2020, days after his son filed a civil suit in a US federal court under the Torture Victim Protection Act against former Egyptian Prime Minister Hazem al-Beblawy contending that he was involved in Mohamed Soltan’s alleged torture in Egyptian custody in 2013. Salah Soltan was then detained for over a year in locations that Egyptian authorities refused to disclose. The authorities allowed family members brief prison visits, in August and December 2021 and January 2022. Relatives say he was brought for the visits from a location that authorities’ refuse to disclose.
The organizations call on the US government to press Egypt to end the extrajudicial punishment of Salah Soltan and transnational repression, aimed at silencing Mohamed Soltan.
Mohamed Soltan said that his father had been transferred to Scorpion II maximum security prison in Egypt’s Tora prison complex for his January 26 visit from an unknown location. He said that his father “was not able to identify the location of his detention,” and throughout the transfer, he was blindfolded. During the two previous family visits, Mohamed Soltan said, his father appeared fearful to share full details of his experience during the periods of disappearance but said he was deliberately starved, moved between cells repeatedly, and not allowed a clock or watch.
Asmaa Elnaggar, Salah Soltan’s wife, in a January 26 letter to Egypt’s National Council of Human Rights, said that her husband stated during the January 26 visit that he had been in near-total isolation, unable to communicate with anyone other than prison guards. She wrote that Soltan had not received any books or writing materials, nor necessary medications and medical equipment. The Soltan family told Human Rights Watch that Salah Soltan relies on medical equipment such as a glucose monitor, neck and back braces, and a blood pressure machine. She also wrote that the authorities have prevented any deposits into his account for the prison canteen, contrary to Egyptian prison bylaws and regulations. She also wrote that he has been held in solitary confinement for 20 months, in violation of the absolute prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment.
Soltan’s wife said that he suffers from diabetes, high blood pressure, and hepatitis C, and has had multiple medical emergencies in detention. Salah Soltan told his relative that he is not receiving daily guard visits, raising his family’s fears that he would not be properly attended to in case of a medical emergency.
Prosecutor General Hamada al-Sawy should immediately transfer Soltan to a safe place known to his family and lawyers, allow him unhindered access to legal counsel and health care, and take all necessary measures to protect him from torture and other ill-treatment, including that in retaliation for his son’s activism, the organizations said.
In November 2018, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention declared Soltan’s detention arbitrary on the basis of numerous fair trial violations and called for his immediate release. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights regards enforced disappearance as “a particularly heinous violation of human rights and an international crime,” as does the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights. The UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, the Mandela Rules, state that prolonged solitary confinement can amount to torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.
Mohamed Soltan, an Egyptian-American human rights defender, was imprisoned on politically motivated charges from August 2013 to May 2015 and tortured. Egyptian authorities forced him to give up his Egyptian citizenship before extraditing him to the United States, where he co-founded the Freedom Initiative, an independent human rights group based in Washington, DC.
International and local human rights organizations have documented that Egyptian authorities have targeted the families in Egypt of activists and human rights defenders living abroad. In June 2020, the authorities arrested five of Mohamed Soltan’s male cousins and arbitrarily detained them for five months. In February 2021, Egyptian authorities raided the homes of six extended family members and arrested three relatives, one of whom remains in detention. During a June 2021 to the US, Egypt’s head of General Intelligence Abbas Kamel reportedly demanded US officials imprison Mohamed, questioning why he “remains free.”
In September 2021, the US State Department withheld $130 million of the $1.3 billion in Foreign Military Financing from Fiscal Year 2020 until President al-Sisi’s government “affirmatively addresses specific human rights-conditions.” Following the January 30 deadline, the US government decided that the $130 million would not be released, but the week prior, the Biden administration approved $2.55 billion in sales of military equipment to Egypt and obligated $1 billion in military aid from fiscal year 2021.
“The US risks legitimizing Egypt’s abuses by continuing its near-total support,” Seth Binder, director of advocacy at the Project on Middle East Democracy said. “Washington should hold al-Sisi’s government accountable for its continued transnational repression and press al-Sisi to free Salah Soltan and end these reprisals against the Soltan family that aim to silence his son Mohamed.”
- Human Rights Watch
- The Freedom Initiative
- Sinai Foundation for Human Rights
- Egyptian Front for Human Rights (EFHR)
- Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED)
- International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
- El Nadeem Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture (El Nadeem Center)
- Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
- Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN)
- FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
- World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
- James W. Foley Legacy Foundation
- Open Society Foundations
- Freedom House
- Human Rights First
- EuroMed Rights
- Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF)
- Amnesty International
- US Committee to End Political Repression in Egypt
Photo Credit: Salah Soltan