US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power called for the release of Egyptian prisoner Omar Mohamed on Sunday, as part of the international #FreeToBeHome campaign, launched in support of political prisoners across the world.
Mohamed was sentenced to a life in prison by a military court, accused of belonging to a terrorist organization among other charges. In a statement, Power said that Mohamed has been in jail for a year and a half, forcibly disappeared, unlawfully detained, tortured and coerced into confessions of belonging to a terrorist cell.
He was arrested along with his fiancee Esraa al-Taweel and their friend Sohaib Saad in June, 2015, as they were having dinner in a restaurant in Zamalek. The three went missing for several weeks, after which Taweel was located in Qanater women’s prison. Both Mohamed and Saad appeared in a television report aired by state television on a terrorist cell allegedly involved in plotting terrorist operations.
A military court sentenced Mohamed, Saad and other defendants to life in prison in May 2016 on charges including belonging to a terrorist organization and planning to assassinate military personnel, while eight others were sentenced to death.
Although she is implicated in the same case Taweel was not referred to a military trial, and was jailed for six months pending investigations before her release in December 2015 for health reasons. The court obliged her to stay under house arrest as a precautionary measure, although this was later rescinded.
In her statement Power said:“Omar’s fiancée has happy memories of their days together — horseback riding, watching him play squash, trying new foods together and playing video games. His 24th birthday recently passed, a special day that they would have normally shared together laughing and making memories. She has been able to visit him occasionally, but state security officers only allow them to see one another for five minutes during each visit.”
She also conveyed Taweel’s wishes to be reunited with her fiancé soon. “The past year and a half has been the most horrible time in our lives. I hope he will be released soon and we can get married and live together safely.”
The #FreeToBeHome campaign was initiated ahead of the approaching Christmas holidays, remembering those who cannot spend the holidays with their families because “a government chose to muzzle their voices and lock them up.” It is calling for the freedom of 10 political prisoners around the world to bring attention to their cases, and the suffering of their families and friends. The other prisoners acknowledged in the campaign are from Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Syria, Venezuela, Iran, China, Ethiopia, Cuba and Gambia.
An earlier campaign was launched upon Mohamed’s arrest called “Freedom for the person who has nothing to do with it,” referring to the fact that Mohamed was never politically active, according to his friends. The group’s official Facebook page writes that Mohamed and Taweel were both arrested merely for being in the same place as Saad.
A statement on the page reads: “After 15 days of forced disappearance and torture, Omar appeared in front of military prosecution. They knew Omar was innocent and he was told by intelligence that he was not released because of the signs of torture on his face. They promised that the prosecution would release him.”
Egypt’s Interior Ministry has been criticized internationally for the forced disappearance of a large number of activists and oppositional figures. Hundreds of individuals have been arrested without due process or the police informing their families, and lawyers have been consistently denied access to hearings and interrogations.