SCRANTON, Pennsylvania: Sameh Khouzam, a Coptic Christian, says he fled Egypt eight years ago to escape religious persecution in his largely Muslim homeland. Egypt calls him a convicted murderer and wants him back to face justice.
Khouzam s fate was in the hands of a US judge Thursday after a hearing to determine whether he can be deported.
Federal officials moved to deport Khouzam earlier this year after receiving assurances from Egyptian diplomats that he would not be tortured.
But Khouzam s lawyers told the judge that such diplomatic assurances from Egypt are meaningless and that Khouzam will almost certainly be tortured if he is sent back to Egypt, where he was convicted in absentia of killing a woman.
Egypt is not an ordinary torturer, said Amrit Singh, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing Khouzam. This country is beyond the pale.
The lawyers also deny that Khouzam killed anyone. They say Egypt has never produced a body or an autopsy report.
Karim Haggag, a press officer with the Egyptian Embassy in Washington, was not immediately available Thursday to comment on Khouzam s allegations.
The US government contends that the judge lacks jurisdiction to hear the case and must defer to the executive branch s determination that the diplomatic assurances were sufficient.
Khouzam s lawyers say he was detained, beaten and sodomized after he refused to convert to Islam.
Khouzam was beaten so badly that he had to be taken to a hospital, said Monique Beadle, an attorney for the World Organization for Human Rights USA, one of the groups representing Khouzam. He escaped, went to the airport and got on a plane to the United States. While he was in the air, Egyptian officials called US officials and said Khouzam was wanted for killing a woman, and the US canceled his visa.
Khouzam was arrested when his plane landed in New York in February 1998 and spent the next eight years in US prisons. A federal judge granted him a deferral of removal in 2000 under the UN Convention Against Torture, an international treaty that bans deportation to a country where torture is likely.
Khouzam, 38, won an appeals court decision in 2004 and was released last year. Federal immigration officials took him into custody again in May. The judge temporarily stayed the deportation a few days later. Associated Press