WASHINGTON ― A bipartisan trio of lawmakers from New Jersey wrote to Donald Trump on Friday urging him to raise the case of a 17-year-old American in an Egyptian prison during his trip abroad.
In their letter, Democratic Sens. Cory Booker and Bob Menendez and Republican Rep. Frank LoBiondo note that Trump will meet with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in Saudi Arabia on Sunday. They also mention that Sissi and Trump recently spoke on the phone and that Trump received an invitation to Egypt during the call.
“We request that you raise [the] case with President Sissi at the summit and in any other subsequent discussions and work to secure his release,” the lawmakers wrote in a message provided exclusively to HuffPost.
Ahmed Hassan of Pomona, N.J., will turn 18 on Thursday. He has been held in crowded facilities with adult prisoners since Egyptian authorities detained him in December when he tried to prevent their arrest of his uncle, who was accused of a building code violation.
A HuffPost investigation last week found that Trump appears to have done little so far to push the Egyptian government on Hassan’s case or those of other Americans jailed there. A May 2 State Department response to a previous letter from Booker, Menendez and LoBiondo did not address the question of whether Trump or Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had ever personally raised the issue with Sissi. In April, Trump did so for another jailed American, aid worker Aya Hijazi, and then celebrated his role in helping bring her home.
“Ahmed was beaten by police officers and thrown in a dark, crowded prison cell with adult prisoners. Additionally he was denied access to a lawyer until the day of his trial,” the lawmakers wrote. “Sentencing a minor to a one-year sentence appears to be far out of proportion to what he has been accused. According to family members, Ahmed has described his experience in prison as ‘scary’ and says that he has been ‘mistreated’ because he is an American.”
According to public acknowledgments from their families, three U.S. citizens are being held by Egypt’s repressive government, which has jailed thousands of people in recent years. The lawmakers’ letter notes that reports suggest that the number is as high as 20. Human rights activist Mohamed Soltan, a former prisoner himself, believes the figure has dropped to nine, he told HuffPost.
Trump has publicly embraced Sissi, a former military officer who gained power after a 2014 coup against Egypt’s first democratically elected president. Trump sees the Egyptian leader as an effective partner in the fight against Islamist terrorism; his aides have said they wish to talk about human rights issues only sparingly and, when necessary, to do so quietly. But experts say the partnership can survive U.S. criticism of Egyptian government excesses.
“We recognize the important of the United States-Egypt partnership and the vital role our two countries play in fighting extremism, preventing illicit smuggling, and enhancing regional stability,” the lawmakers wrote in the Friday letter. “However, our assistance is not mutually exclusive to the demand for human rights and the rights of our citizens.”
Read the full letter below: