Father of US-Egyptian teen jailed in Egypt says US should do more to help free him

Ahmed Hassan, 17, was arrested in Egypt in December.

ByABC News
April 21, 2017, 7:22 PM
Ahmed Hassan, a 17-year old from Atlantic City, New Jersey was arrested from his family home in Zagazig, a city in the Nile Delta.
Ahmed Hassan, a 17-year old from Atlantic City, New Jersey was arrested from his family home in Zagazig, a city in the Nile Delta.
Family of Ahmed Hassan

— -- The family of a 17-year-old New Jersey boy who has been imprisoned in Egypt since December are calling on U.S. authorities to do more to secure his release.

Ahmed Hassan was arrested on Dec. 1, 2016 while staying with his extended family at their home in Zagazig, a city in the Egyptian Nile Delta, his family said. According to Ahmed's lawyers and father, the teen was taken into custody when the police came to arrest his uncle on a minor building code violation.

Family members present at the time got involved in a dispute with the authorities, which resulted in the arrest of seven of them, including Hassan. The family members were sentenced to a year in prison for resisting authorities, according to Hassan's father, Mohamed Mostafa.

The family had been anxiously awaiting a court hearing that would reconsider Hassan's imprisonment, Mostafa told ABC news. The hearing was scheduled for April 19 but was postponed until July 16 because the police were not available to secure his transportation to court, Mostafa said.

"I went with the lawyer to see the judge overseeing Ahmed’s case and begged him to set an earlier date to look into his reconsideration, but he refused,” Mostafa said.

While he awaits the July court date, Hassan is living in a cell packed with other people, his father said, adding that he said he must pay the other prisoners in order to get a small amount of space to be able to sleep on.

In March, Hassan sent a letter to President Donald Trump begging him to intercede with the Egyptian authorities on his behalf.

"I am in a jail cell with more than 20 adults. It is scary to be here with these people and the police," Hassan wrote. "Mr. President, please help me. I want to be with my family and friends. I am proud to be an American. I beg you to defend my right to be free."

A copy of Hassan's letter was provided to ABC News by Pretrial Rights International, a legal advocacy organization that is working on his case.

The families of other U.S. citizens imprisoned in Egypt had also written a letter to President Trump ahead of his April 3 meeting with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. In addition to Hassan, the letter asked Trump to intercede on behalf of Mustafa Kassem, 52, and Ahmed Etwiy, 23, who have both been imprisoned since 2013.

"Mr. President, we believe in your commitment to represent Americans first and the values America holds dear, especially freedom. We urge you to demand that President Sisi release all unjustly detained prisoners in Egypt, including our American family members," the letter stated. It was signed by Mostafa, Eman Kassem and Dr. Nagwa El Kordy.

PHOTO: A letter to President Trump from the families of three American citizens detained in Egypt.
A letter to President Trump from the families of three American citizens detained in Egypt.

Hassan was born and raised in the US, where his father has been a resident since 1984. Hassan and other members of the family have been going back and forth between the US and Egypt since the mid-2000s.

Before his arrest, Hassan was living in Atlantic City and studying for his SATs, hoping to return to the US for college, his family said.

Praveen Madhiraju is a lawyer with Pretrial Rights International who is working on Hassan's case pro-bono. He said that when Hassan was arrested, the Egyptian authorities wanted to record his nationality as Egyptian, while Hassan insisted that he is American.

“They made fun of him and said 'they [the US government] will do nothing for you,'" Madhiraju said.

The DC-based lawyer adds that his organization is currently engaged in talks with both the State Department and Congress to try to pressure Egyptian authorities to release Hassan.

The family has also been in touch with the US embassy in Egypt. But Hassan's father said their response so far has been a "disappointment."

"The person who came from the US embassy didn’t even see where Ahmed is jailed. They meet him only at the office and said: 'We don't attend the questioning, we only follow up after,'" Mostafa said. "I am American. I have the right to be defended and protected. Otherwise, what’s the reason to be an American citizen?"

The US embassy did not return ABC News's request for comment.

According to Praveen, Hassan is one of approximately 19 American citizens currently jailed in Egypt.

Earlier this week, an Egyptian court acquitted 30-year-old Aya Hijazi, an Egyptian-American aid worker. She had been detained for nearly three years on charges related to child abuse. On Thursday, Hijazi met with Trump at the White House.

"We are very happy to have Aya back home," Trump said.

But Hassan's family are left wondering if and when he will be next. Mostafa said that he was happy to hear that Hijazi had been release because it showed that applying pressure on Egyptian authorities can yield positive results. But he also said it was "hypocritical" that pressure was not being applied by the US to free Hassan.

"Why is there no pressure for Ahmed’s case? Is there a difference between people working in human rights and a normal citizen?" Mostafa said.

Meanwhile, the teen's father also worries that they are running out of options to get bring him home.

"I see Ahmed every Sunday," Mostafa said. "He is staying strong but he is starting to break down. He has been in prison for four months and was hoping to leave after his hearing before it got postponed."

Mostafa said Hassan's fate seems to rest in the hands of el-Sissi.

"Our only hope now is for a presidential pardon," he said.