CAIRO — A US citizen who went on a hunger strike and who claimed he was wrongfully imprisoned in Egypt died on Monday after spending six years behind bars, the US State Department said.
Mustafa Kassam, 54, an Egyptian-born auto parts dealer from Long Island, New York, died of heart failure after a hunger strike he began last year to protest his unjust incarceration, his lawyers said.
“His death in custody was needless, tragic and avoidable,” US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker told reporters. “I will continue to raise our serious concerns about human rights and Americans detained in Egypt at every opportunity.”
Kassam was in Cairo to visit family in August 2013 when his lawyers say he was mistakenly swept up in a vast dragnet during the violent dispersal of an Islamist sit-in that killed hundreds of people.
Mustafa Kassem died yday in a cold Egyptian prison. He was 54. His lawyer said Kassem was diabetic with a heart condition & was denied access to adequate healthcare & medicine. He died of heart failure. His death is a reminder of the cruelty visited on Egypt's political prisoners pic.twitter.com/DBPLkVtFug
— Timothy E Kaldas (@tekaldas) January 14, 2020
That summer, security forces descended on supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi, who hails from the Muslim Brotherhood, in what became known as the the “Rabaa Massacre.”
Kassam was exchanging money at a shopping mall near Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adawiya Square when police stopped him and asked to see identification. When he handed over his US passport, officers suddenly started beating him, and detained him. He was held for five years before he was charged.
Then in 2018, in a mass trial of over 700 defendants widely condemned by human rights organizations, Kassam was sentenced to 15 years under a contentious anti-protest law. After that, he refused to eat anything but vegetable juice, his lawyers said.
When US President Donald Trump secured the release of Egyptian-American rights advocate Aya Hijazi, who was imprisoned for three years in Egypt on false charges, Kassam appealed to the US administration for help. US Vice President Mike Pence raised the issue last year with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi.
Sissi came to power the same summer of 2013 and has overseen a sweeping crackdown on dissent, silencing critics and jailing thousands.