Mustafa Kassem died of heart failure on Monday, according to the Pretrial Rights International and The Freedom Initiative, the two organizations that represented him during his case. He was 64 years.
Kassem, who was an Egyptian-American, was arrested in August 2013 in Cairo while visiting his family. He was beaten by security forces and held in pretrial detention for more than five years before being sentenced without due process in September 2018 to 15 years in prison, according to the organizations.
Shortly after his sentence, Kassem sent a handwritten letter to Trump to inform him of his plight and implore the president of the United States for his help.
“I pray that you have a plan for me,” Kassem wrote. He told Trump that he was diabetic and was on a hunger strike “knowing very well that he could not survive.”
“I don’t recognize myself anymore. I don’t want my children to remember me this way, but I’m on a hunger strike because I’m losing my will and I don’t know how to get your attention,” said the father. of two wrote.
According to Mohamed Soltan, the leader of The Freedom Initiative, Kassem was on a hunger strike only for liquids before cutting liquids last week. Shortly after, he was transferred to a local hospital, where he died.
“I am putting my life in your hands,” Kassem wrote to Trump in that September 2018 message.
It is not clear if the president saw the letter, which was passed by the representative Peter King, the Republican of New York who represented Kassem’s brother and sister-in-law. The White House declined to comment on the record of Kassem’s death.
On Monday, the Under Secretary of State for Near East Affairs, David Schenker, said he was “deeply saddened to learn” of Kassem’s death.
“His death in custody was unnecessary, tragic and avoidable,” Schenker told reporters at the State Department.
“We send our sincere condolences to Mr. Kassem’s wife and family at this painful time,” he said. “I will continue to raise our serious concerns about human rights and Americans detained in Egypt at every opportunity, as well as the entire State Department team.”
However, a senior State Department official said Monday that it was “still premature” to talk about punitive measures for the government of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi over Kassem’s death.
“We are really worried about this and we are going to do it, we are going to talk about that, about what we are going to do,” the official said. “We haven’t decided yet.”
Soltan, a former Egyptian political prisoner, told CNN that there are at least six other Americans detained in the country.
Although Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had expressed concern about Americans detained in Egypt, including Kassem, Trump has been less expressive about the human rights abuses of the Egyptian president. Instead, the president of the United States praised Sisi in April 2019, when he received the Egyptian leader in the White House.
“I think he’s doing a great job,” Trump said, calling Sisi “great person.”
However, in 2017, Trump negotiated the release of the American Egyptian charity worker Aya Hijazi and her husband from an Egyptian prison where they had spent almost three years. The then White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Trump “participated directly behind the scenes” to ensure Hijazi’s release and raised the problem to Sisi.
The Egyptian Embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment on Kassem’s death.
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect The right age of Mustafa Kassem.