US protester jailed in Egypt freed after starting hunger strike over coronavirus fears

More than a dozen detainees at the prison where Mohamed Amashah was held tested positive Covid-19, according to Washington-based human rights group

Chris Riotta
New York
Tuesday 07 July 2020 16:48
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A US medical student who was jailed in Egypt after protesting in Tahrir Square with a sign that read “Freedom to All Prisoners” has been released after starting a hunger strike that began in March.

Mohamed Amashah, a 24-year-old who held dual American-Egyptian citizenship until Sunday, was released from Cairo’s controversial Tora prison complex and flew home early on Monday morning, according to Freedom Initiative, the human rights group that represented him.

He began the hunger strike over fears he would contract the novel coronavirus while detained in Egypt’s cramped jails known for their poor conditions. Mr Amashah was forced to abandon his Egyptian citizenship as part of the conditions for his release.

“Yesterday Egyptian-American political prisoner Mohamed Amashah was released from Egyptian prisons after 486 days of arbitrary detention," Freedom Initiative said in a statement. “Mohamed landed in Dulles International Airport this morning and returned home to Jersey City, New Jersey to be with his loved ones."

More than a dozen detainees at the prison where Mr Amashah was held had already contracted Covid-19, according to the Washington-based human rights group. Egyptian officials have meanwhile denied any existence of Covid-19 within the country’s prison system.

However, the Egyptian government has acknowledged that at least one staff member of the Tora prison complex tested positive for the novel virus.

Mr Amashah was held in pre-trial detention, a routine practice employed by the Egyptian government to keep thousands of political prisoners behind bars without trial.

His release follows that of Reem Mohamed Desouky, a dual American-Egyptian citizen who was imprisoned for nearly 10 months and released in May after speaking out against the Egyptian government in a post on social media, as well as the death of Mustafa Kassem.

The 54-year-old Egyptian-born US citizen passed away in Egyptian custody in January after starting a hunger strike. He had been held for six years and maintained his innocence throughout the sentence.

At the time, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker told reporters Mr Kassems’ death was “needless, tragic and avoidable”, adding: “I will continue to raise our serious concerns about human rights and Americans detained in Egypt at every opportunity."

Reports indicated Washington officials were concerned Mr Amashah’s hunger strike could soon take a tragic turn.

"No one wanted to take the risk of another Kassem," Mohamed Soltan, founder of the Freedom Initiative, told CBS News. “[Amashah’s] case is welcomed progress and a step forward in the right direction.”

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