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Biden administration confirms former Egyptian rulers’ immunity from US citizen torture prosecution

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Once the State Department has determined an individual’s diplomatic status, courts should not look behind the certification to perform their own analysis, lawyers for the Civil Division of the Department of Justice wrote, after obtaining an extension of the January court deadline to allow Biden’s team of Secretary of State Antony. Blinken to review the handling of the case by his predecessors.

The US government said it had not taken a position on the merits of Soltans’ claims, or whether Beblawi could be prosecuted again since his abrupt resignation from the IMF and his departure from the United States. end of October.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) Said it was disappointing that Beblawi was found immune from US court proceedings in a case in which he was accused for authorizing the torture of an American citizen.

The Egyptian government could have waived immunity, but instead chose impunity for Mr. Beblawi, and on top of that, they arrested relatives of Mr. Soltans in Egypt to try to force him to drop his trial, Leahy said in an emailed statement. This is what one would expect from a criminal enterprise, not from a government that receives billions of dollars in American aid.

The Egyptian Embassy in Washington and Beblawi’s lawyers did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Beblawi’s attorneys cited a US immunity certification asking for the case to be dismissed last July. They said they had received the advice and a diplomatic note from the State Department, and that the Egyptian government, through its embassy, ​​said: Mr. El Beblawi enjoys immunity from prosecution, not only in by virtue of its current diplomatic status, but also of due personal immunity. to his official position as Egyptian Prime Minister at the time of the events cited.

The US declaration of interest in the Soltans case comes as some Democratic lawmakers also criticized State Departments’ approval in February of a $ 197 million sale of missiles and related equipment to Egypt, which flies in the face of President Bidens’ promise to focus more on human rights in foreign policy. than its predecessor.

During the 2020 presidential campaign, Biden tweeted about the Soltans affair, saying that torturing Egyptian activists and threatening their families was unacceptable. Biden also said there would be no more blank checks for Trump’s favorite dictator, referring to Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi by the nickname President Donald Trump once allegedly gave him.

Human rights activists and lawmakers claim Egypt has repeatedly targeted the Soltans family to silence criticism of Sisi and blackmailed the US government by threatening to weaken the strategic partnership Egyptians with Washington in the Middle East.

Soltan criticized US authorities on Friday for bowing to diplomatic pressure and technical legalities and said the decision signaled victims to a policy of returning to business as usual with dictators.

This attempt to isolate a torturer from responsibility in US courts is a blank check to the Egyptian dictator and totally contrary to the commitments declared by the Biden administrations, Soltan said. He called the decision an error of legal interpretation, policy and moral judgment that will encourage authoritarian regimes to target human rights defenders abroad and endanger his family and others at home. ‘origin.

Mr Blinken urged the families of the hostages to call him if the State Department did not do the right thing. And it is in this spirit that I express my deepest disappointment with yesterday’s filing.

Soltans lawyers obtained court approval to formally respond by April 19.

A State Department spokesperson said the United States has repeatedly made clear its grave concern over arbitrary arrests and detentions in Egypt, and that Blinken has said human rights will be at the heart of US-Egyptian relations.

The Department took no position on the merits of the underlying lawsuit. The State Department confirmed the immunity Mr. El Beblawi enjoyed based on his position at the time of filing the complaint, the spokesperson said.

Governments and foreign officials are generally immune from civil actions in US courts. However, Soltan has brought an action under the U.S. Torture Victim Protection Act, a 1991 law that allows complaints against those suspected of torture or inhuman treatment that take place anywhere in the world if the accused are in the United States and are no longer heads of state or government.

Beblawi, who served as Prime Minister from July 2013 to March 2014, was appointed to the IMF’s board in 2014 and lived in a suburb of northern Virginia, a few miles from where Soltan settled. when the complaint was filed.

Soltan, an American Egyptian raised mainly in the Midwest, claimed he was the target of barbaric assassinations and abuse for 643 days as a political prisoner in Cairo because he dared to expose the brutal repression to the world Egyptian military governments and the slaughter of peaceful protesters.

Days after the lawsuit was filed, five of Soltans ‘parents in Egypt were forcibly taken by security forces from their homes and jailed until the end of the US presidential election, and Soltans’ jailed father was questioned before disappearing completely from sight, his lawyers said.

Lawmakers noted last week that the Biden administration formally notified Congress of the potential missile sale on February 16, just as news emerged that the Egyptian government raided the homes of six Soltan relatives and jailed them in new three cousins. They were then released.

Independent media reports attributed to Egyptian government officials suggested that an internal standoff over whether to win the favor of the Biden administration or crush the hopes of political opponents could partly explain the treatment by the government to the parents of Soltans.

Blinken publicly denounced such arrests.

The State Departments’ Annual Human Rights Report, released last week, also condemned the Cairo government for unlawful or arbitrary killings … enforced disappearances; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment by the government … harsh and life-threatening detention conditions; arbitrary detention and other injustices.

Yet human rights groups claim that the Sisi government, under a law ratified by Beblawi, has arrested tens of thousands of people for political reasons, including US citizens such as Mustafa Kassem, 54. , died in prison in January 2020.

He also targeted relatives in Egypt of political opponents, human rights defenders, pro-democracy activists and journalists living abroad, arresting them, banning them from traveling or questioning them, activists said.

The Justice Department filing said that a July 7 certification by the State Department, granted at Egypts’ request, of Beblawi immunity effective November 2, 2014, when he assumed his post at the IMF, was conclusive and in accordance with the constitutional authority of the President, departmental policy and United. Agreements of nations, although not dependent on the latter.

The department said that in view of the United States’ binding diplomatic obligations and long-standing expectations of the United States as the host of the United Nations and related entities, disregard certification by the Beblawi State Department or any other diplomatic status of foreign representatives would seriously undermine the foreign policy interests of the United States.

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