US says ex-Egypt PM had diplomatic immunity from lawsuit: Report

Egyptian-American Mohamed Soltan filed a US lawsuit against Hazem el-Beblawi alleging involvement in torture in Egypt.

Hazem el-Beblawi
Former Egyptian Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi had served as Egypt's representative to the International Monetary Fund [File: Amr Nabil/AP Photo]

The Biden administration has said a lawsuit seeking to hold former Egyptian Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi accountable for alleged involvement in torture against an Egyptian-American activist should be thrown out because he held diplomatic immunity, the Washington Post newspaper reported on Monday.

In a submission to the US District Court in Washington, DC, shared by the Washington Post, lawyers for the US Justice Department said “El Beblawi held diplomatic status at the time when the suit was commenced” and the court should dismiss “claims falling with the scope of his immunity”.

El-Beblawi had served as Egypt’s representative to the International Monetary Fund, but quit and left the US in late October, the Washington Post reported.

The department said in its court filing that it was not making any judgements on the merits of the case itself.

Egyptian-American rights activist Mohamed Soltan, a former political prisoner in Egypt, filed a lawsuit against el-Beblawi in US District Court last year, accusing the ex-prime minister of ordering his arrest, torture and attempted assassination.

Soltan was arrested during a brutal crackdown in Cairo in 2013.

In a statement shared on Twitter on Monday, Soltan said he was “deeply disappointed” with the Biden administration’s position, saying it had “erred in its interpretation of the law, policy and moral judgement”.

“And in doing so, it has further endangered my life here in the US, and the lives and wellbeing of my family in Egypt. We will allow the court to resolve the immunity issue, as my case is still viable, active and timely. This matter is not over,” Soltan said.

Soltan, the son of a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood which Egypt has banned, was arrested in August 2013 after Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi led the military overthrow of elected President Mohamed Morsi.

Soltan was released in 2015 following a 15-month hunger strike and deported to the US after renouncing his Egyptian citizenship.

Since taking office, US President Joe Biden has faced growing calls to speak out against human rights abuses in Egypt, a longtime US ally in the Middle East and take a different approach to the bilateral relationship than his predecessor, former President Donald Trump.

Trump had praised el-Sisi, calling him his “favourite dictator”.

Rights groups have for years criticised the Egyptian government for cracking down on dissenting voices, including journalists, human rights activists and perceived political opponents. About 60,000 people are believed to be detained in the country.

In recent months, Egyptian human rights advocates in the US – including Soltan – have accused Egypt of going after their loved ones to pressure them into silence, spurring demands for Biden to speak out.

In July of last year, while he was on the presidential campaign trail, Biden tweeted: “No more blank checks for Trump’s ‘favorite dictator'”.

But his administration in February authorised the sale of $200m in weapons to Egypt, saying the country “continues to be an important strategic partner in the Middle East”.

Biden administration officials pledged to press Cairo on human rights, however.

Last month, in a rare public display of criticism of Egypt at the United Nations human rights agency, the US was among 31 signatories calling on the el-Sisi government to end its campaign against civil society groups and activists, and lift curbs on freedoms of expression and assembly.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies