President Biden can save my father

The Biden administration must uphold its commitment to human rights and intervene to stop the Rabaa case executions.

Muslim Brotherhood leading figures, Mohamed el-Beltagy, Khairat el-Shater, and former youth minister Osama Yassin gesture during their trial at a court in Cairo on August 30, 2014 [File: Reuters]

For the past three years, I have had a recurring nightmare. I dream that my father, Osama Yassin, a paediatrician and former Egyptian Minister of Youth, has been executed by the Egyptian government.

On June 14, this nightmare moved a step closer to becoming a reality. The Egyptian Court of Cassation upheld the death sentence of 12 detainees, including my father, in the so-called Rabaa sit-in dispersal case. In the summer of 2013, my father participated in peaceful demonstrations against the coup that removed democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi.

On August 13, 2013, security forces ruthlessly attacked the sit-in at Rabaa Square in Cairo, killing more than 1,000 people. The assault is considered to be the worst mass killing in modern Egyptian history and the deadliest single-day incident of state violence since the infamous Chinese government crackdown on a protest in Tiananmen Square, in 1989.

Each morning I rise to the buzzing of my phone as I pray that the news I dread is not delivered. As of the time of writing, my father is still alive. Yet I fear each day may be his last.

Following my father’s detention in 2013, he spent eight years in solitary confinement. For six of those, he was banned from receiving visitors and meeting with his lawyer. During the handful of times we were able to see him, it was apparent that his health was significantly deteriorating.

He never sees the sun and is deprived of food and water for days on end. Such treatment is increasingly the norm for so many of Egypt’s tens of thousands of political prisoners.

In my head, I can picture my father’s charcoal eyes; I try to remember how they looked without soundproof glass between me and them, how their spark warmed my soul. How can such brilliant eyes ever go blank?

The death sentences of the Rabaa 12 were handed out in a mass trial described by Human Rights Watch as “grossly unfair”, riddled with violations of due process and human rights abuses. These 12 men are a tiny fraction of the many Egyptians whose human rights have been completely thrown aside in unfair judicial proceedings.

In the past few years, the Egyptian regime has accelerated executions. The Egyptian Front for Human Rights has documented a severe uptick in death penalties being carried out, rising from 48 in 2019 to 126 last year; already in 2021, at least 57 people have been executed.

Numerous human rights organisations have repeatedly called on Egyptian authorities to halt these politicised trials and executions. It is against this backdrop of increasing slaughter that the thought of my dad being killed now consumes my days and nights.

My father and his fellow detainees who have been sentenced to death have been accused of participating in unauthorised protests and committing violence against security force personnel. Yet there is no evidence to back up the claims that he participated in violent acts.

My father was charged together with hundreds of other men, with no specific evidence presented against any single one of them. In truth, the sentences are intended to stifle legitimate dissent and to function as a warning to any Egyptian who dares to challenge the regime’s absolute authority. Despite being charged with orchestrating the Rabaa sit-in, some of the defendants were detained before the Rabaa sit-in was attacked and dispersed. Meanwhile, no government official has been called to account for the Rabaa massacre.

We have now heard from our lawyers that the execution order of my father and the other 11 men has been signed. All I have left now is to call on the United States government and President Joe Biden to intervene on my father’s behalf.

Like so many Egyptians, I have been following closely President Biden’s strong statements in support of human rights, and the fact that he upholds the values of freedom and justice has brought hope into my heart.

If my father is executed for peacefully protesting against tyranny, then this would only further encourage arbitrary detentions, torture, executions as part of an escalating crackdown on dissent in Egypt and beyond. President Biden has spoken up against such brutal abuses repeatedly.

My father, or let me call him, Baba, in my native tongue,­ as I feel closer to him that way – and if these really are his last days, I want to feel as close to him as possible – is a well-known paediatrician. Parents brought their sick children from all over Egypt to seek his help at his practice.

To this day I receive messages from people who credit my father for saving their lives and health. He lived to serve his country, his community and his people. And for doing so, he now languishes in jail, sentenced to death by a dictatorial regime that views any political dissent as a cause for execution.

My father faces death for the crime of speaking up and standing up for what he believed was right. Despite the risk that speaking out brings to my family living in Egypt, I, too, must stand up for what is right and to try to save him. My one remaining hope is that the Biden administration will intervene and use its leverage over the regime in Cairo to halt the executions, to save my father and countless others like him, and to one day let us be reunited. My dearest father, I am still hopeful you will be saved.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.