A year behind bars: Mohamed Soltan

Aaron T. Rose
7 Min Read
Detained American-Egyptian activist, Mohamed Sultan sits behind the bars of the accused dock during his trial on June 23, 2014 in the Egyptian capital Cairo. Sultan, who has been detained since August 2013 for participating in the sit-in at Rabaa-Al Adaweya Square supporting Morsi, is on hunger strike for 147 days. (AFP PHOTO / STR)
Detained American-Egyptian activist, Mohamed Sultan sits behind the bars of the accused dock during his trial on June 23, 2014 in the Egyptian capital Cairo.  (AFP PHOTO / STR)
Detained American-Egyptian activist, Mohamed Sultan sits behind the bars of the accused dock during his trial on June 23, 2014 in the Egyptian capital Cairo.

Monday marked one year behind bars for United States Citizen Mohamed Soltan after being arrested on 25 August 2013 for acting as media liaison for the Muslim Brotherhood at the mass sit-in last summer outside the Rabaa Al-Adaweya Mosque in Cairo’s Nasr City.

During the violent clearing of the pro-Mohamed Morsi sit-in at Rabaa that left over 700 people dead, Soltan was shot in the arm while speaking with a television news crew. The bullet was removed two days later by a private doctor—Soltan refused to go to a hospital for fear of being arrested. Nonetheless, he was arrested 11 days later when security forces raided a friend’s apartment in which he was staying.

In the period of investigations after his arrest, Soltan was moved around five different prisons and police stations. He was blindfolded and tortured several times, according to his family.

According to his sister, Hanaa Soltan, Mohamed is not a Muslim Brotherhood member, nor has he ever been, despite his role in the press centre at Rabaa.

Soltan, who was raised between Michigan, Ohio, Missouri, and Massachusetts, received his Bachelor’s degree in Economics from Ohio State University, and later moved to Cairo in 2013 to take care of his mother, who suffers from cancer. Soltan’s father, Salah Soltan, is a Muslim Brotherhood leader who is also imprisoned.

In a letter from Tora Prison addressed to American President Barack Obama, dated 16 November 2013 – his 26th birthday – Soltan described a surgery he had on his wounded arm. The operation was performed without anesthesia on the floor of his cell by a fellow inmate because he was denied medical care. Soltan pleaded Obama to intercede on his behalf for his release.

“Your abandonment of me, an American citizen who worked tirelessly towards your election, and a staunch supporter and defender of your presidency, has left a sting in me that is almost as intense as the sharp pain emanating from my recently sliced arm,” wrote Soltan.

Soltan’s family said that the US and the embassy in Cairo, the State Department, and the American government at large have not gone far enough to assist Soltan.

“The US Embassy provides consular services to him at the most basic level, and nothing more.  They have not called for his release once, and they simply continue to visit him periodically and make the necessary calls to ensure he is still alive,” said Hanaa Soltan.

“The Embassy, to our knowledge has not received a single medical report from Mohamed’s hospitalizations we requested from the Egyptian authorities.”

Contrary to Soltan’s family’s statement, US Embassy in Cairo spokesman Mofid Deak said that the embassy was taking all appropriate steps to assist Soltan as a US citizen.

“Our role in all this is very straightforward. We want to make sure he’s being treated like any other prisoner, ideally up to international norms. And it’s critical for us to maintain access. We believe that our access has made a difference,” said Deak.

“We have made it very clear [to the Egyptian government] that we are concerned, and we’ve had regular interaction with the Ministry of Interior, on a nearly daily basis, about his medical condition. They know we’re watching. They know we’re paying attention. And we’re asking questions about [Soltan].”

On 26 January 2014, Soltan decided to go on hunger strike in protest of his illegal detention, the continuous postponement of his trial, and mistreatment inside Torah prison.

His hunger strike has lasted for longer than 200 days, and in mid-June he also refrained from drinking water for around 20 days. He eventually had to break his water-strike after consistent fainting incidents.

Throughout his hunger strike, Soltan has been in and out of the hospital a number of times. Often Egyptian prosecution would not allow him to make desperately needed visits to the hospital, or they would recall him to prison at times when he was in need of intensive care.

“Mohamed’s health is deteriorating, he is unable to move, his [preexisting] blood clotting condition is completely mismanaged to a life threatening degree. He is still on strike, but is being held in [in prison] with my father. Medical staff comes by sporadically to take his vitals, nothing more,” said Hanaa Soltan.

“My father is distraught over Mohamed’s condition. They are held in the same cell, so my dad is tasked with Mohamed’s medical care in the absence of real care.”

In mid-June, he was forcefully taken from his cell and temporarily moved to an unknown location.

“The Ministry of Interior brought a full SWAT force to my solitary confinement cell and carried me blindfolded to another prison cell where I was told I was going to die. I sat in my wheelchair in the middle of the cell and started praying,” Soltan told his family.

Family and friends have begun the Free Soltan campaign to raise awareness for Soltan’s case, and lobby the State Department and Capitol Hill to act on his behalf.

“We hope to be able to get mainstream media to cover his case as well,” said Hanaa Soltan.

While Soltan’s hunger strike has lasted for longer than 200 days, he is once again refraining from drinking water and has not had water in more than 10 days, according to the Free Soltan campaign.  

Soltan’s next hearing will take place on 3 September, after being postponed on 16 August.

“His health continues to deteriorate as MOI forces him to attend all hearings against doctors’ recommendations,” according to the Free Soltan Facebook.

No evidence has been presented for any of the charges against Soltan, said his family.

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Aaron T. Rose is an American journalist in Cairo. Follow him on Twitter: @Aaron_T_Rose
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