Egyptian court orders release of US citizen after 6-month detention

Kusum Tewari

Egypt has shown little tolerance for dissent since Mohamed Morsi was toppled.

An Egyptian court on Wednesday ordered the release of a dual U.S.-Egyptian national who was arrested upon her arrival at the Cairo airport in July 2019, the head of a Washington-based rights group said.

Egyptian-American Mohamed Soltan, himself a former prisoner, said the court order to release Pennsylvania teacher Reem Desouky is pending an appeal from the prosecution which will be heard on Thursday.

Desouky was detained at the Cairo airport during a visit to her family six months ago. She was accused of running a Facebook page that criticizes the government.

Soltan told ABC News that U.S. pressure on Egyptian authorities following last month’s death of Mustafa Kassem, another U.S. citizen who died in detention after a lengthy hunger strike, appeared to have paid off.

“You cannot not relate [the release order] to the death of Mustafa Kassem and the U.S. pressure to free the other Americans, and she is the most prominent case after that,” said Soltan, who leads human rights group Freedom Initiative, which focuses on political prisoners in the Middle East.

“There is a lot of U.S. pressure, a lot of US engagement … such release orders do not come out of nowhere, things do not go that way,” Soltan continued.

Moustafa Hamed, Desouky’s 13-year-old son, was briefly detained with his mother at the airport before being released 11 hours later. In an emotional video posted on social media more than a month following Desouky’s arrest, he pleaded with U.S. president Donald Trump to help free her. Egypt has made no comments on the case.

Egypt has shown little tolerance for dissent since the army toppled Islamist president Mohamed Morsi after mass protests against his divisive one-year in power in 2013.

Rights groups accuse president Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi of launching a relentless crackdown on opponents, estimating that tens of thousands are languishing behind bars on trumped-up charges. Egyptian authorities deny that and insist insisting that prisoners who are kept in custody have gone through due judicial process.

Egypt receives about $1.5 billion in U.S. assistance each year — the second largest amount doled out by the country after Israel. There are at least six other U.S. citizens currently detained in Egyptian prisons, according to Human Rights Watch.

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