CAIRO (AP) — An Egyptian criminal court sentenced a dual U.S.-Egyptian citizen on a monthslong hunger strike to life in prison Saturday on charges of financing an anti-government sit-in and spreading false news.
Mohammed Soltan, the son of a prominent member of the now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, was arrested in August 2013, when security forces came looking for his father at his house. They didn't find the father at the time, but arrested him instead, Soltan's family said. His father, Salah, was detained later.
Mohammed, a 27-year-old Ohio State University graduate and former Barack Obama campaigner, has been on a hunger strike over his detention for more than 14 months, and his health is rapidly deteriorating, his family said.
The court also upheld death sentences for 14 people, including Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badie and Salah Soltan, and sentenced 36 others to life in prison, including three Egyptian journalists.
Soltan's brother Omar said in a phone interview that Mohammed is being held alone in a prison hospital where even the guards are not allowed to speak with him. He only receives outside news during court sessions, when he sees his father in the defendant cage.
Mohammed has been refusing medical checks since security forces moved his father to a higher security prison two months ago. The father, a diabetic with blood pressure issues, has been denied any medication since then, Omar said.
"Egyptian authorities are using my father to pressure Mohammed into ending his hunger strike, but he continues to refuse," said Omar, adding that the family plans to appeal the sentences.
The case is rooted in the violence that swept Egypt after the military-led ouster in July 2013 of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, a veteran Brotherhood leader, whose supporters set up protest camps in Cairo. Security forces violently dispersed the sit-ins in August 2013, killing hundreds. In retaliation, many police stations and churches came under attack.
President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who as army chief had overthrown Morsi amid mass protests against the Islamist leader, issued a decree in November that allows him to deport foreign defendants convicted or accused of crimes.
"We're hoping that Mohammed will be deported from Egypt under that new law," said Omar. The government has given no indication that such a move is under consideration.
None of the defendants were present in the courtroom as Judge Mohammed Nagi Shehata read out his ruling. Shehata has a reputation for issuing harsh sentences against perceived government critics. Last year he sentenced three journalists from Al-Jazeera English to jail terms ranging from seven to 10 years, a verdict that exposed Egypt to widespread allegations of suppressing media freedom.
The Obama administration condemned the sentencing in a White House statement.
"We call for Mr. Soltan's immediate release from prison," the statement said. "We remain deeply concerned about Mr. Soltan's health, which has suffered during his 20 month-long incarceration."
Since Morsi's ouster, Egypt has faced international criticism for conducting mass trials with judges rapidly issuing severe sentences.
Mohamed Elmessiry, the Egypt researcher for rights group Amnesty International, said in a phone interview that Saturday's verdicts were "politically motivated."
"Egypt's criminal justice system has proved since the ousting of Morsi that it's not independent," he said.
Courts have issued hundreds of life sentences and death sentences, said Elmessiry, but "on the other side we haven't seen any security officer held accountable for the killing of protesters or torturing in custody or death in custody."