US lawmakers urge sanctions on Egypt over citizen death

By Vakkas Dogantekin

ANKARA (AA) – Some U.S. lawmakers have urged the Trump administration to impose sanctions on Egyptian officials following the death of an American citizen during hunger strike in an Egyptian jail, where he was kept for over six years on trumped up charges.

Accusing U.S. President Donald Trump of abandoning Mustafa Kassem, who tried to reach out to the U.S. president several times for help to obtain freedom from the regime of Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy blamed the White House for inaction.

Kassem was arrested by Egyptian security forces in August 2013, who accused him of participating in mass protests when millions of Egyptians took to the streets to reject the military coup against the elected government of Mohammad Morsi.

"The White House refused to use its leverage to obtain his release. Instead, Trump has called President el-Sisi a 'great friend' and his 'favorite dictator'. That is as appalling as it is insulting to the families of President Sisi's victims," said the Vermont senator in a tweet.

Responding to him, Michelle Dunne, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a former U.S. diplomat, said: "There must be a consequence."

"A consequence that serves as a strong reminder to President Sisi that he can no longer flaunt the rule of law with impunity," Dunne said.

Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden said in tweet: "His death, after six years in an Egyptian jail, is an outrage. Americans unjustly detained anywhere in the world deserve our government’s full support and relentless efforts to secure their release."

Pete King, a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives and the representative of Kassem, said in a tweet he "was unjustly accused and @RepTomSuozzi and I, along with @VP [Mike] Pence fought hard for his release."

He went on to say that their effort proved in vain and "Egypt continually refused".

"Sanctions must be imposed on Egypt and govt officials who carried this out or allowed it to happen," King added.

Democratic Senator Chris Murphy said the U.S. has not used the "leverage, influence" that it had.

Speaking alongside Leahy, King and many others at a news conference on Wednesday in Washington by the Project on Middle East Democracy, an advocacy group, Murphy went on to say: "We have to put the unfortunate death of Mustafa Kassem in the context of an administration that has frankly abdicated its responsibility to lead globally on the issue of civil rights and human rights."

Leahy and another Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen urged the Trump administration on Wednesday to sanction Egyptian officials responsible for Kassem's death under the Global Magnitsky Act.

ABC News reported that a senior State Department official said Monday it was "premature" to talk about any repercussions for Sisi's government.

Muslims on social media have also slammed the Trump administration for "showing him little attention because of his Egyptian and Muslim identity".

– Who is Mustafa Kassem?

A taxi driver in New York City and father of two, Kassem was arrested on the night of Sisi's deadly crackdown on peaceful protesters who opposed the military coup to oust Morsi, who died during a trial last June.

Morsi died during a court appearance to face charges many believed were politically motivated.

Human rights groups reported close to 1,000 deaths and hundreds of arrests during the military crackdown ordered by the regime of Sisi against pro-democracy protesters in 2013.

In the mass trial with more than 700 co-defendants, the Egyptian court accused Kassem of attempting to overthrow the government and sentenced him to 15 years in jail without presenting any individual evidence against Kassem, according to his lawyers.

He began a hunger strike in September 2018 on the day of his sentencing, and tried to have his voice heard by Trump and Pence.

In one of his letters, he said he knows he "may not survive".

"I am losing my will and don't know how else to get your attention," he wrote to U.S. leaders.

Kassem died on Monday of heart failure, according to his lawyers at Pretrial Rights International.

Sisi's Egypt receives the most U.S. assistance after Israel, at about $1.5 billion each year.

Van Hollen said there are seven other U.S. citizens currently detained in Egypt, and Human right Watch says there is an estimated 60,000 other political prisoners in Egyptian prisons.

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By Handan Kazanci

ANKARA (AA) - Anadolu Agency is here with a rundown of the latest developments on the coronavirus pandemic and other news in Turkey and around the world.

- Coronavirus in Turkey

Turkey on Thursday confirmed 926 additional recoveries as the country began easing measures against the novel coronavirus, according to the country’s health minister.

The total number of recoveries from the disease hit 131,778 as 926 more patients were discharged from hospitals over the past day, Fahrettin Koca said on Twitter, citing Health Ministry data.

The country's death toll from the outbreak rose to 4,630 as Turkey reported 21 new fatalities over the last 24 hours.

Turkey conducted over 54,000 COVID-19 tests in the past 24 hours, bringing the total tally to more than 2.2 million, said Koca.

Meanwhile, Turkey plans to resume international flights to 40 countries gradually as of June 10, Transport and Infrastructure Minister Adil Karaismailoglu said Thursday.

International flights from Turkey will carry passengers first to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Bahrain, Bulgaria, Qatar and Greece, Karaismailoglu said in a statement.

Turkey suspended all international flights on March 28 amid COVID-19-related travel restrictions worldwide.

- Global coronavirus developments

A low death toll was once again recorded Thursday as France recovers from the coronavirus pandemic which plagued the country over the last three months, according to the latest statistics reported by the Health Ministry.

The country registered a total of 46 deaths in hospitals Thursday, a drop of 39 cases over those reported Wednesday.

Italy on Thursday reported 88 more fatalities from the pandemic, bringing the death toll to 33,689 as authorities unveiled new guidelines to prevent crowded summer spots like beach resorts from becoming new virus hotbeds.

The slowing trend in the number of deaths registered in May continued in early June, confirming that the peak of the crisis has been passed.

Face masks on English public transport will be mandatory from June 15, the British government announced Thursday, as a further 176 people died from the coronavirus over the past 24 hours.

British authorities announced that the UK-wide death toll from COVID-19 is now 39,904.

As Spain prepares for its state of emergency over COVID-19 to last until June 21, the Health Ministry reported Thursday that 195 more people were infected with the coronavirus and five more had died.

The number of infections diagnosed Wednesday was down slightly from the 219 people who tested positive Tuesday but up from Monday and Sunday. In total, 240,660 infections have been confirmed in the country.

Health officials in the Palestinian enclave of Gaza announced Thursday the arrival of medical supplies sent by Turkey to help fight the novel coronavirus outbreak.

In a statement, Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra confirmed that two polymerase chain reaction (PCR) machines had been delivered for detecting the virus.

- George Floyd Memorial service

Hundreds of mourners on Thursday attended the first of several memorials for George Floyd – an unarmed black man who was killed in police custody on May 25.

The service at North Central University in Minneapolis, Minnesota was attended by Floyd's family and Ben Crump, the civil rights attorney representing the family, as well as celebrity guests.

Meanwhile, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Thursday urged demonstrators joining protests over the death of George Floyd to get tested for the novel coronavirus.

Speaking at his daily press briefing, Cuomo said around 30,000 people have taken part in the statewide protests demanding justice for the killing of the unarmed black man in police custody.

Of them, 20,000 were involved in rallies in New York City.

In Europe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has urged citizens not to overlook the racism problem in Germany while intensely discussing racism and police brutality in the US after the death of George Floyd.

"This murder of George Floyd is very, very terrible. Racism is something terrible,” Merkel said Thursday evening in an exclusive interview with public broadcaster ZDF.

“Racism has always been present, but sadly we also have this [problem]. We should first sweep in front of our own door,” she stressed.

- Other developments

Turkey and Libya plan to advance cooperation in the Eastern Mediterranean, including exploration and drilling activities, to further benefit from natural resources, Turkey’s president said in a meeting with Libya’s prime minister Thursday.

The meeting between Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Fayez al-Sarraj took place at the presidential palace in the Turkish capital Ankara.

Erdogan said Turkey and Libya have reached a consensus on expanding their cooperation areas on the territory of Libya.