State Department Should Speak out for Aya Hijazi, U.S. Human Rights Defender in Egypt Prison
This is a cross-post from the Huffington Post:
Remember the Eldarats, the U.S. citizens tortured and jailed in the United Arab Emirates for nearly two years while the Obama administration sat on is hands, not wanting to make a fuss or upset its military ally?
Well, meet Aya Hizaji, another U.S. citizen jailed by a repressive Middle Eastern regime while Washington closes its eyes and wishes the problem would somehow resolve itself.
Hijazi was arrested in May 2014 along with her husband and four others working at an NGO for street kids in Cairo, and were caught in President Sisi’s widespread crackdown on Egypt’s civil society.
Hijazi is a humanitarian educated at George Mason University in Virginia, but she’s now in Egypt’s notorious Qanater prison, accused of sexually abusing the children she had rescued— fabricated accusations aimed at intimidating those who work for Egypt’s nonprofit organizations. And, in the paranoid world of the Egyptian government, the fact that she’s American automatically puts her under suspicion.
After her arrest experts at local Egyptian rights groups examined the sexual abuse accusations and agreed they are false. Her next court date is set for November 19.
The State Department has failed to raised a public ruckus about the case, failed to order U.S. Ambassador Beecroft to visit her in prison or even attend her court hearings, failed to suggest that her arrest, framing, and continued imprisonment might be cause to review Washington’s annual $1.3bn aid package to Egypt.
Hijazi’s family are in Washington this week to meet with congressional offices, to tell them about her case and urge them to push the State Department to meet its responsibilities.
“The family really wants Aya back home and free. Aya has suffered a lot along with her entire family,” her brother Basel Hijazi told me. “I hope the State Department can take more action, especially more publicly to try and help her.”
Hijazi’s case, like the Eldarats before it, is being handled very poorly by a U.S. government unwilling to upset a dictator ally. Reluctant to raise human rights issues with Egypt, the Obama administration is failing Hijazi and will need to be pushed to play its part in resolving her case.
In May this year the Robert F Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights filed a petition on her case with the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention detailing how she had been mistreated during her interrogation. Sadly, she’s one of many targeted since President Sisi came to power in a 2013 coup—local activists put the number of political prisoners arrested since then at around 60,000. No criticism of the government, even peaceful dissent, is tolerated.
Despite the long-term intense crackdown, the violent repression against any perceived political opposition or human rights activism, the muzzling of the press, and corruption of the judiciary, the United States hasn’t stopped supplying a huge annual military aid package and continues to fund the authorities who are targeting Hijazi.
Leading human rights defenders, like Hijazi, are either in prison, facing charges or forced into exile.
The U.S. media is starting to expose the State Department’s failings. In a July piece for The Washington Post, Jackson Diehl described the Obama Administration’s treatment of Hijazi as “shameful.” Additionally, NPR released a piece last year reporting on the unfounded accusations.
It took many months of intense campaigning by the Eldarat family, the U.S. media, Human Rights First, and other NGOs to shame Obama administration officials into finally taking action to help free the father and son detained in the Emirates. Let’s hope they’ve learned their lesson and act immediately for Hijazi.