“Too many people expect wonders from democracy, when the most wonderful thing of all is just having it.” – Walter Winchell.
This quote describes the attitude of the world today for democracy: the most popular form of government around the globe. Democracy, simply put, allows the citizens of its country to elect and change their leaders, to choose their leaders via frequent elections, to participate in free and fair elections, and to have access to basic protection of their civil rights. The opportunity of self-governance is one of the most appealing traits of a democratic system.
The United States is a democracy, and the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights protects our most treasured right: the freedom of speech. The First Amendment provides United States’ citizens the freedom of speech, or freedom of expression, which “is ‘the matrix, the indispensable condition of nearly every other form of freedom.’ Without it, other fundamental rights, like the right to vote, would wither and die.” Since the Bill of Rights was first ratified in 1791, the First Amendment has been attacked and tested numerous times throughout the country’s history, but it still stands as our most protected freedom in the United States.
The support for democracy around the world in recent years has made it clear that citizens of many developing nations want to have a voice in the governance of their societies. Despite the strong fervor surrounding democracy, it is not a perfect governmental system. There are many who have challenged democracy throughout the world and throughout history. For instance, the current Egyptian government currently in place is opposed to democracy and has resisted it in the most hostile manner. The first democratically elected president was Mohammed Morsi, but he saw “only one year in power before being ousted by the military on 3 July 2013.” President Morsi’s fitness as president is arguable, but the military that overthrew him and that now controls the Egyptian government made it clear that citizens who support democracy are their enemy. This military led government showed contempt for democracy’s core pillar of civil discourse by slaughtering and injuring thousands of people protesting President Morsi’s forced removal. After President Morsi was taken into custody, “[m]ass protests were staged by his supporters on the streets of Cairo, demanding his release and immediate return to power. The army responded by storming protests camps on 14 August and arresting key Brotherhood figures. Almost 1,000 people died in the crackdown” led by the Egyptian military. These military attacks continued; hundreds more were killed and thousands more were wounded.
On August 15, 2013, U.S. President Barack Obama stepped forward and stated that he “strongly condemn[ed] the steps that ha[d] been taken” in Egypt, but he refused “to cut the $1.3 billion the U.S. provides annually in military aid[,]” stating that “America cannot determine the future of Egypt.” This sentiment was not enough to dissuade the Egyptian military leader, led then by General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who has since taken over as leader of Egypt.
MOHAMED SOLTAN WRONGFULLY ARRESTED
Protests continued to take place refuting the Egyptian military’s actions, but the military’s assault on the Egyptian people persisted. Mohamed Soltan was already among the Egyptian people working towards promoting the development of democracy in the country when on August 14, 2013, the day before President Obama’s statement, Mr. Soltan suffered a spontaneous military attack during a peaceful protest. Mr. Soltan had been documenting the protest and the attack “on Twitter with his iPhone, [and] reported that he was shot in the arm[.]” The bullet remained in his arm for a couple days, and he suffered considerable pain as a result of the wound. Mr. Soltan was requested for an interview a couple days later, but was only able to speak over the phone. During this interview, Mr. Soltan stated that he feared arrest and so did not seek public medical attention for his wound. He attested that
[a]t least one other demonstrator he knew had been taken into custody after being treated in a hospital near Rabaa, he said, so he had a private doctor remove the bullet. His bandaged arm hung in a sling, which he removed whenever he encountered one of the police or army roadblocks scattered across Cairo under the military-backed government’s month long state of emergency.
His fear of arrest was confirmed a short while later. On August 25, 2013, Mr. Soltan sent his sister, Hanaa Soltan, “who lives in the Washington area, . . . a text message stating, ‘We’ve been arrested. Post.’ She has been unable to [communicate directly with] her brother since.” Ms. Soltan later received an email from her parent’s neighbors that their home in Egypt “had been broken into and destroyed[.] . . . We aren’t sure if he was arrested at a different location and brought back to the house or if he and his friends had been arrested there.”
No matter how it played out, Mr. Soltan “was arrested . . . [after he] had been working with a media committee which reported violations by the security forces against pro-Morsi supporters since his ousting.” The security forces broke into Mr. Soltan’s home in Cairo, Egypt that day and were “looking for his father, Salah Soltan, a Muslim Brotherhood figure. [They] . . . arrested Mohamed Soltan and three of his friends when they did not find his father.”
Mr. Soltan is one of over 16,000 people reported to be detained “in prisons and police stations since the ousting of former president Mohamed Morsi.” However, Mohamed Soltan is both an Egyptian citizen and a U.S. citizen. As such, Mohamed Soltan is entitled to receive the same rights and should be afforded the same international civil and human rights as any American citizen should in his capacity: a detained American in an international prison based on fictitious charges.
SOLTAN GREW UP IN THE USA
Mr. Soltan is a fellow U.S. citizen who grew up in the United States and who knows everything about being an American, right down to our country’s love of Chipotle and college sports. Below is a brief summary about Mr. Soltan and just how fundamental this country has been in his life.
Mohamed Soltan is a 27 year old Egyptian American citizen and prominent peace activist. He grew up in Kansas City, moved to Detroit for high school, and finished his Economics degree from the Ohio State University. Mohamed led many activities while on and off campus the past years. He was the president of the Muslim Student Association at OSU, organized youth events in the community, and was involved in many charitable events. His activism led him to be involved on Medical Aid convoys to the Middle East. Most recently, in 2012, he went to the outskirts of Jordan where he assisted in delivering Aid to Syrian Refugees. Mohamed’s dedication to both his identities, American and Egyptian, have shown through in his activism. His dedication to his American identity led him to stay active in local community work in Columbus, Ohio. His dedication to his Egyptian identity led him to leave Ohio . . . in order to join millions of Egyptians who called for the ouster of the long standing dictator Hosni Mubarak.
It cannot be disputed that Mr. Soltan is a U.S. citizen, and thus should be protected by our government as any U.S. citizen should be protected when targeted by international militaries.
SOLTAN IS ACCUSED OF COMMITTING UNFOUNDED CRIMINAL ACTS
The Egyptian authorities moved Mr. Soltan from prison to prison in order to prevent his exact whereabouts from becoming known. In a letter smuggled out to his mother, Mr. Soltan wrote about the aftermath of his arrest. He said, “I was not allowed a phone call, nor any communication with a lawyer, with one guard quipping that he could get me anything I wanted, drugs, alcohol, prostitutes. Just not due process.”
More shocking still, Mr. Soltan was blind folded and taken to a man who then claimed to be charging Mr. Soltan of the following six crimes: “funding a terrorist organization; membership in a terrorist organization; membership in an armed militia; disturbing the peace; falsifying and spreading rumors about the internal affairs of Egypt; and finally, the killing of protestors.” Of course, none of these allegations are rooted in either fact or law. Upon hearing these accusations, Mr. Soltan described to his mother that he “was completely shocked that such charges, none of which had any basis in reality, would be so casually brought against me, and thought of the future plans I had for my career, and family, and thought that they would all be so casually ruined by this sham I was being subjected to.”
To top off these absurd criminal charges, Mr. Soltan has suffered further psychological and physical abuse at the hands of his captors. He detailed a few of his experiences to his mother as follows:
The brutality with which I have been treated has been mind boggling. During the day, soldiers and police would get in two straight lines, and we would have to run in between them as they beat us with rocks and sticks. They roused anger amongst the officers by falsely proclaiming that we had killed police officers. The officers stripped off our pants and shirts as they beat us with clubs. They put us in jail cells with what must have been 60 other inmates, and it was terribly hot and water was not made available to us. I saw an inmate suffer a heart attack right before my eyes and not receive proper medical attention. The surgical wound on my arm was open and oozing, and not one of the guards seemed to care because I was labeled a political prisoner.
In addition to being unable to see visitors, Mr. Soltan has been denied all access to the American Embassy in Cairo, Egypt. Despite these harsh circumstances, Mr. Soltan is able to speak proudly of his American heritage as he writes to his mother. He thanks his mother for nurturing him as a dual citizen.
My American identity has afforded me the opportunity to taste freedom, to breathe its limitless air, and to enjoy the liberties given to me. My Egyptian identity sincerely desires those very same privileges, and to witness Egyptians be deprived of those rights motivates me to persevere and to work towards their cause. Khalil Gibran once said that birds don’t build their nests within a cage so that their offspring don’t inherit slavery. These are the principles that the American founding fathers also spoke highly of. The people of Egypt, have the natural right to freedom.
A year into his detainment, Mr. Soltan had still not been formally charged with committing any crimes. Mr. Soltan was falsely arrest. In September, “[a]fter months of illegal detention, [he] finally stood before a judge, no evidence was presented and no argument was made, [and] the judge simply ordered he be held for another 45 days. In protest, Mohamed entered into a hunger strike immediately following [a] hearing on January 26th, 2014 with no plans to end it before he is immediately released for lack of evidence against him.” Mr. Soltan still has not been afforded a proper hearing where he has been formally charged of any crime and still has not been afforded an opportunity to offer his defense to the appropriate authorities.
His hunger strike has continued for well over a year now, and he has suffered numerous strokes and physical consequences as a result. However, Mr. Soltan has managed to hold on, and his family was recently able to convince him to take at least a few simple liquids to sustain him.
Mr. Soltan is being denied his basic human rights under international law, let alone under the laws of the United States, as mandated by the United Nations for all its members. The U.S. government needs to step forward and right this wrong, or else our country will be just as responsible for Mr. Soltan’s predicament as our country has been for the shameful blight thrust upon the hundreds of prisoners sent to Guantánamo Bay over the past century.
BASIC INTERNATIONAL RIGHTS ARE NOT BEING AFFORDED TO MR. SOLTAN
Every human being is entitled to basic international human rights, even during times of war. According to the United Nations, “Human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, whatever our nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status. We are all equally entitled to our human rights without discrimination. These rights are all interrelated, interdependent and indivisible.” As of October 24, 1945, Egypt has been an active Member State of the United Nations and has an obligation under this umbrella to “refrain from interfering with or curtailing the enjoyment of human rights[;] to protect . . . individuals and groups against human rights abuses[;] [and] must take positive action to facilitate the enjoyment of basic human rights.” The same is true of the United States, which became a Member State of the United Nations the same day as Egypt.
On December 10, 1948, “for the first time in human history” a Declaration was passed that “spell[ed] out basic civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights that all human beings should enjoy[,]” and has become widely known as the International Bill of Human Rights; the original of which can be found here.
The United Nations has also set forth a basic list of rules for treatment of prisoners of war. These rules generally apply to all Member States, and the number and breadth of these rules are vast. In relevant part, the treatment of prisoners of war are to include such things as: information regarding his admission and release times; “no person shall be received in an institution without a valid commitment order of which the details shall have been previously entered in the register[;]” “[u]ntried prisoners shall be kept separate from convicted prisoners[;]” minors are to be separated from adults; prisoners “shall be provided with water and with such toilet articles as are necessary for health and cleanliness[;]” “[e]very prisoner shall be provided by the administration at the usual hours with food of nutritional value adequate for health and strength, of wholesome quality and well prepared and served[;] and ‘[d]rinking water shall be available to every prisoner whenever he needs it.”
The above list is just a brief summary of the many rules the United Nations has chosen to post as the basic rights of prisoners of war of its Member States. Most of these regulations have not been afforded to Mr. Soltan – and he is not even a prisoner of war. In other words, the United Nations’ standard for treating prisoners of war within Member States far exceeds the level of treatment that Mr. Soltan has received. According to his testimonies, he has received little to no medical care, receives little water, and (before his hungry strike) little food. Mr. Soltan’s accounting of maltreatment and lack of civil rights can be corroborated by the dozens of other political prisoners and non-political prisoners detained due to the 2013 Egyptian coup; many of these prisoners, some of whom have been released, have offered similar accounts of torture, lack of access to basic supplies, and denial of due process.
Furthermore, and more importantly, the United Nations makes it clear that “[n]o prisoner shall be punished unless he has been informed of the offence alleged against him and given a proper opportunity of presenting his defence [sic]. The competent authority shall conduct a thorough examination of the case.” Despite the United Nations’ declarations and rules surrounding international law, the current Egyptian government has spat upon the international leadership that the country elected to take support from and be a member of nearly 70 years ago.
Mr. Soltan has clearly been denied this right and stripped of his basic human rights and the most basic rights afforded to even prisoners of war. It is time that the United Nations as a whole take a stand against the severe violations found in Egypt and implement the self-governing duties it imposed upon itself when the United Nations was founded in 1945. At the least, the United States needs to protect its own and attempt to reconcile this tragedy for “United We Stand, divided we fall.”
As it stands, Mr. Soltan is left without a leg to stand on as his physical health and patriotic spirit takes lashes from the Egyptian military. It is usually impossible to avoid the consequences of certain situations without having previous knowledge of similar situations. In this case, however, here we have witnessed Mr. Soltan’s situation before – he is trapped in a legal black hole similar to that created by the United States found at Guantánamo Bay. The United States was chiefly responsible for creating this legal black hole and is still working towards repentance.
The U.S. HAS A Legal Black Hole in Guantánamo Bay
It was in Guantánamo Bay, beginning in 1903. Cuba was granted a lease whereby it would have “total sovereignty over Guantánamo Bay, but gave the US ‘complete jurisdiction and control’. This inadvertently created a space where neither nation’s laws clearly applied: a purgatory that’s been used to park people whose legal rights posed political threats.” Because of this separation between ownership and control, a legal black hole was created, or “a gap where no jurisdiction is exercised by either state, and where no jurisdiction can be imposed by outside sources under the norms of international law. Guantánamo Bay is thus an area where a certain range of activities may occur in the absence of any legal framework.”
The most severe consequence of this superficial legal system occurred in 1991 when thousands of Haitians fled their country seeking political asylum in the United States. The President, George Bush Sr., sought to rescue the refugees from certain death at sea, who fled via makeshift boats, but refused to accept everyone into the country. Thus, he ordered “the US coast guard to take over 20,000 to Gitmo. Most were returned to Haiti. But about 200 got caught in the middle: approved for asylum, but barred from the US for being HIV-positive. These refugees staged protests and harnessed international media attention. Concerned citizens lined US streets calling to close Guantánamo; Harold Koh (then at Yale Law) organized a legal battle.” Although one U.S. judge ordered the camp closed two years later, President Clinton reopened the camp to hold nearly 30,000 Cubans just only a year after that. These Cuban refugees were forced to live in tent cities behind barbed wires for roughly two years. This pattern has repeated itself several times since 1903. In 2010 for example, it was reported that “Guantánamo still holds 176 detainees, and [only] one of them is about to stand trial[.]” President Obama made a statement “on May 23, 2013, [where he] promised to begin releasing the prisoners still held at Guantánamo Bay who were cleared to leave by his inter-agency task force in January 2010 — 86 at the time.” President Obama has made his intentions clear that he does not support the continued use of Guantánamo Bay as a detention facility, but his promise to release the pardoned prisoners remains unsatisfied. This situation reflects the difficulties of enforcing any promise, even that given by a President, where there is no legal recourse.
The lease with Cuba is open-ended, history keeps repeating itself, and there appears to be no realistic method of permanently closing the camp for good. It has remained for over 110 years to be the United States’ legal black hole where a President can stick any individual – enemy or not – on an island camp for however long he decides and for whatever reason he chooses. And there is no legal recourse for those who suffer such imprisonment.
Mr. Soltan is suBject to a Legal Black Hole with no Due Process
Mr. Soltan has been held in Egyptian military prisons for no other reason other than his political contributions to democracy and patriotism placed him in a dangerous predicament. His mission is simple: to bring the same liberties the citizens of the United States experience to the citizens of Egypt because Mr. Soltan truly believes in liberty, freedom, and justice for all.
When Mr. Soltan was arrested and isolated from his friends and families, he was plugged into a world of legal fiction. He has been locked away from civil society for over a year and a half and still has not heard the formal charges brought against him. There is no evidence to offer against him, and his accusers have not attempted to fabricate any either. Mr. Soltan has not been afforded the right to defend himself against these accusers in a competent court of law. He has not been granted the most basic of human rights during his imprisonment. And yet, there is no legal recourse for him. He is suffering from a similar plight as those who have been forced into one of Guantánamo Bay’s detention camps. However, no one has come to his rescue. The Egyptian President is responsible for not just Mr. Soltan’s false imprisonment, but also the false imprisonment of thousands of others accused of committing criminal acts fabricated by the same Egyptian military that forced President Morsi’s removal.
Mr. Soltan is an innocent young adult, a college graduate of the Ohio State University, and a fellow United States citizen. His human rights have been violated to an outrageous level, and he is being denied due process in all sense of the phrase. It is time the United States government turns its attention to Mr. Soltan’s situation. It is time to demand that the Egyptian government present substantial evidence of Mr. Soltan’s guilt and of the crimes he has allegedly committed; it is time to demand that they provide him with basic due process and human rights afforded to every person under binding international laws; or it is time to demand his immediately release.
One of America’s founding fathers, John Adams, warned the founding nation to “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself.” I urge every person who reads this article to take Mohamed Soltan’s life to heart and the meaning of democracy – the right to be free and the right to be treated as a human being – to reality. Do not let democracy die with Mr. Soltan by leaving him to the mercy of a military dictatorship that has wrongfully murdered hundreds, injured thousands, and imprisoned tens of thousands more for their own purposes. Rather, I urge this country to not to let the evils of injustice and cruelty reign over innocent individuals such as Mr. Soltan while choosing to hide under a cloak of righteousness by pointing the finger at the aggressors and skirting the responsibility of protecting a fellow citizen. Let the suffering stop. Do not let Egypt repeat what has already become a shameful blot on U.S. history at Guantánamo Bay and permit this tragic legal black hole to continue.
Mr. Soltan is an American through and through. He has proved this in many respects, but he stated it best when we said: “‘The Egyptian side of my identity deserves as much freedom and democracy and liberty as my American side does,’ he said. ‘It’s what I learned in sixth-grade civics class: Give me liberty or give me death.’”
Bring Mohammed Soltan home, to his country, our country, the United States of America, where he belongs and reunite him with his friends and family who love and miss him dearly.
VIEW MOHAMED SOLTAN’S PLEA FOR HELP
Please follow this link to a leaked video of Mohamed Soltan recorded on June 3, 2014 using a hidden camera phone and shows Mr. Soltan pleading for help from his prison cell. This was the last telecommunication released, and it can only be assumed that Mr. Soltan has been unable to obtain another phone to contact the outside world. You can view more videos about Mr. Soltan, posted by his family, friends, supporters, and congressman, here.
A LETTER TO THE PRESIDENT, SINCERELY MOHAMED SOLTAN
The following link is of a letter written by Mohamed Soltan directed to U.S. President Barack Obama on his 26th birthday in November 2014. A copy can also be found here. Furthermore, one of his friends recorded a video of himself on May 6, 2014 reading Mr. Soltan’s letter to our President, which is available on YouTube.
MOHAMED SOLTAN SENTENCED TO LIFE IN PRISON
The above article was originally published on April 6, 2015 on the Golden Gate University Law Review Online website. However, on April 11, 2015, Mr. Soltan was sentenced. He was not given a fair trial and no evidence was brought against him. Nonetheless, he has been sentenced to life in prison. Given Mr. Soltan’s innocence, failing health, and refusal to give up his hunger strike, this sentence is synonymous to a sentence to death.
We cannot let this injustice take place. We need to take a stand against what the Egyptian military has done to thousands of innocents, and, at the very least, we need to protect our own citizens. We need to SAVE MOHAMED SOLTAN!
Please help spread awareness of Mr. Soltan’s tragic story. The online article has hyperlinks leading to the citations and is available at: https://ggulawreview.org/2015/04/06/return-innocent-u-s-citizen-trapped-in-egypts-legal-black-hole/. Thank you for your support.