An Ohio State graduate who has been imprisoned in Egypt for more than a year is nearing death after being on a hunger strike for more than 250 days, according to close friend of the graduate.
Mohamed Soltan, a dual American-Egyptian citizen who graduated from OSU in 2012 with a degree in economics, was arrested in Egypt in August 2013 after the military coup and overthrow of former President Mohammed Morsi. Morsi’s time in office was filled with political unrest amongst citizens, despite him being the first democratically elected Egyptian president.
President Hosni Mubarak had been overthrown during an Egyptian revolution in 2011.
Soltan was participating in a Muslim Brotherhood-led protest in a square in Cairo in August 2013 to defend democracy before he was shot in the arm. As many as 900 people were killed in the square that day, according to The New York Times.
The Muslim Brotherhood is the Islamic political party Morsi represented.
Soltan was later arrested in his home while recovering from surgery to remove the bullet.
The Free Soltan campaign promotes Soltan’s release on social media and an awareness website.
In an effort to fight for his freedom, Soltan began a hunger strike more than 250 days ago. He is given water with small amounts of sugar, Masoud Nafey, a member of the Free Soltan campaign and close friend, said.
“He will not allow Egypt’s injustice system to take his life. He will fight for his and others’ freedom until his death,” Nafey said.
A prison doctor said on Sept. 23 that Soltan had less than a month to live, and medical reports state his condition is continuously deteriorating, Nafey said.. It is now dangerous for him to be transported to court hearings, he said.
The court hearing scheduled for Sept. 23 was postponed until Oct. 11. The hearing will determine how much longer Soltan will remain in prison.
“There is no reason it is being pushed back. There are no charges against him. The judge simply looks at the court number and it is postponed at every hearing due to a lack of a true justice system,” Nafey said.
If the court hearing is extended again, family and friends worry it will mean death, Mohamed’s brother Omar Soltan said.
“People who have surpassed 200 days of a hunger strike anywhere in the world are only able to continue on an IV, and Mohamed isn’t even being allowed to be moved to a hospital,” Omar Soltan said.
As part of the Free Soltan campaign, some in the United Sates have also joined Mohamed Soltan in his hunger strike, including Omar Soltan and OSU alumnus Ammar Alwattar.
“I felt like it was time to take action by joining and standing up against those who are unjust and oppress others. Joining him is just my duty as his brother,” Alwattar said.
The Free Soltan campaign recently held a global Twitter effort to raise awareness and reach the United States government via the hashtag #SaveSoltan.
The Free Soltan campaign also recently spoke with U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, who told the organization he will do his best to help, said Abderrahmane Amor, a friend of Soltan and second-year in public affairs and Islamic studies.
“The issue is we have a guy who is an American citizen, is Muslim and loves democracy, and nothing is being done for him. At this rate, the trust Muslims have for the U.S. government will cease to exist,” Amor said.
Neither The Embassy of Egypt in Washington, D.C., nor the Department of Homeland Security responded to multiple phone requests for comment since Friday.
Amor said the best way for OSU students to aid in the efforts is to support the Free Soltan campaign through social media and reach out to their state representatives to raise awareness. Nafey said students can also participate in a partial or full hunger strike to show support.
The OSU Muslim Students’ Association held a dinner in support of Soltan. Attendees were encouraged to fast the entire day and attend the dinner to learn about the current situation, Amor said. The organization plans to host a similar event this year. Soltan’s family, friends and members of his campaign hope to see his release prior to his death.
“Our family has been torn part by this. My mother is now in Egypt in order to be near my brother and father. My brother Khaled is working in Qatar, and my eldest sister and youngest sister are in Virginia, living an unstable life and expecting the worst every day, all the time,” Omar Soltan said.
However, Nafey said the family’s faith inspires many.
“They pray and pray and are really in touch with their religious side. This hasn’t been easy on them by any means, but their faith is strong,” Nafey said.