After five years in prison, an American citizen jailed on trumped up charges in Egypt is pleading for his life to President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.
In two letters sent to the administration, obtained exclusively by ABC News, Mustafa Kassem recounts how he was beaten and arrested after Egyptian security officials discovered his U.S. passport amid a mass crackdown on opposition – and how he has started a hunger strike “because I am losing my will and don’t know how else to get your attention.”
A 53-year-old diabetic, his family has urged him to stop, and his lawyer tells ABC News that his health is failing. He appeared very frail and weak during a visit Sunday, with his hands visibly shaking and his blood sugar dropping to a dangerously low level.
But Kassem writes that while he knows “full well that I may not survive,” he has no choice.
“I want my children to know that I fought tooth and nail for my freedom. I want them to know America is great because our government will fight tooth and nail for its citizens,” he wrote in the letter addressed to Pence. Both are dated Sept. 12 and were sent to the White House on Sept. 13, according to his lawyer.
A New York City taxicab driver, Kassem started his hunger strike last week after being convicted of trying to overthrow the government of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el Sisi and sentenced to 15 years in jail in a mass trial with more than 700 co-defendants.
Praveen Madhiraju, executive director of Pretrial Rights International and one of Kassem’s lawyers, has called the charges against his client “bogus,” adding that he’s “an innocent American” and the situation is a “disgrace.”
Kassem was in Egypt in August 2013 visiting his wife and two children, then 3 and 6 years old. It was a particularly volatile moment in Egypt’s recent history — one month after the military seized power following days of protests against the democratically elected government of Mohamed Morsi.
In Morsi’s place, then-General Sisi took control, implementing a crackdown on political opposition and civil society that has since expanded. About 20 Americans currently are in Egyptian jails, but there are as many as 60,000 political prisoners across Egypt, according to a Human Rights Watch report last year.
On Aug. 14, 2013 — the night before Kassem was set to return to the U.S. — he went out to exchange some money and shop when security officials detained him and his brother-in-law, accusing them of participating in protests against the military takeover in a nearby square. The military was cracking down on the demonstrations in what human rights groups say was the single deadliest incident in Sisi’s sweep to power, with as many as 800 killed.
While his brother-in-law was released, Kassem was accused of being an American spy because of his U.S. passport.
“Although the beatings eventually stopped, these prisons and their guards did their best to wear me down for more than five years,” he wrote to Trump.
In Egyptian jails, he has been denied regular access to medical treatment, including insulin, his lawyers said, leading to dangerous drops in blood sugar like the one this past week. Multiple requests by his family to have him hospitalized have been denied or simply ignored by Egyptian authorities, but he has been moved to solitary confinement to monitor his health.
Still, now that he is on hunger strike, his family worries he is running out of time. Kassem was sentenced to 15 years in prison, and, after serving five years, he now faces ten more, according to his lawyer.
“My brother is dying slowly. He is giving up hope,” his sister, Iman Kassem, told ABC News in a statement.
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SOURCE: ABC News, Conor Finnegan