PHILADELPHIA: A US court should get to review the information that has assured federal officials that an Egyptian man will not be tortured if he is sent back to his homeland, his lawyers told an appeals court Monday.
Sameh Khouzam, a Coptic Christian who was convicted of murder in absentia in 1998, says he was beaten and sodomized for refusing to convert to Islam in Egypt, a predominantly Muslim country. His attorneys say he is innocent of the murder.
His lawyers told the 3rd US Circuit Court of Appeals that Egypt has violated similar “diplomatic assurances in the past. They told the panel that a US court needs to review the information on which the pledge is based.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and other high-ranking officials have deemed the assurances reliable, the court was told.
Justice Department officials have said that Khouzam’s case must be placed in the broader context of US-Egyptian relations.
Khouzam flew to the United States in February 1998. Before his plane landed, Egyptian authorities notified US officials that he was wanted there for a murder committed only hours before he left.
Khouzam was taken into custody as soon as he entered the country and almost immediately applied for asylum, saying he feared he would be subject to religious persecution if he was returned to Egypt.
After US court rulings in his favor, Khouzam was released in 2006.
But he was taken into custody again after being advised that the State Department had secured diplomatic assurances he would not be tortured.
In January, Khouzam again was released from federal custody after US District Judge Thomas I. Vanaskie ruled Khouzam had legitimate reasons to fear being tortured if deported.
The federal government appealed the ruling to the appeals court, which did not say when it would rule.
Vanaskie concluded that little evidence has been produced to support Khouzam’s conviction for the murder of Zaki Mohammed Youssef. He said the only evidence filed to support the murder conviction was a news release, not any formal court documents.
Khouzam’s lawyers say the news release lists a conviction date of Feb. 22, 1998 – 11 days after the alleged crime. They say no body or autopsy has ever been produced.