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Rights group says Egypt police raided homes of activist’s relatives

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) — Police raided the houses of two uncles of an Egyptian-American activist who recently sued a former Egyptian prime minister in a U.S. court, accusing him of crimes against humanity, an international rights group said on Thursday.

Human Rights Watch quoted a member of Mohamed Soltan’s family as saying that more than a dozen uniformed and plainclothes police on Wednesday searched the houses of two of Soltan’s uncles in the Delta province of Menoufeya.

The security forces also looked at passports, phones and laptops before asking about Soltan, a dual U.S.-Egyptian citizen, and whether the family had been in touch with him, according to the statement released by the New York-based group. Nobody was arrested and nothing was confiscated, the statement said.

“This is a shameless retaliatory act of aggression against my family in Egypt, and an abundantly clear attempt to deter and silence me from my pursuit of justice,” said Soltan, adding that his family members, including young children, were held at gunpoint during the raid. “I will not be intimidated, and I refuse to be silenced.”

Soltan’s lawyers at the Washington-based firm of Lewis Baach Kaufmann Middlemiss amended his civil case on Thursday by presenting a new declaration to the court that detailed the threats against his family. It said Soltan would seek “appropriate relief” through the American justice system.

“The security raids at the homes of (Soltan’s) relatives in Egypt follows a clear pattern of targeting relatives of dissidents abroad,” said Joe Stork, HRW’s Middle East and North Africa deputy director.

On June 1, the 32-year-old Soltan, now living in Virginia, filed a lawsuit against Egypt’s former Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi, accusing him of targeting him for attempted extrajudicial execution and torture while he was in detention in Cairo between 2013 and 2015.

Soltan invoked a 1991 U.S. statute that allows for victims of torture and extrajudicial killings committed by foreign officials abroad to seek damages through the U.S. court system.

“Mohamed Soltan took recourse in a U.S. court because he has had zero opportunity to pursue justice or accountability in Egypt for torture and police abuses,” said Stork.

El-Beblawi currently lives in Washington, where he works as an executive director of the International Monetary Fund.

In the summer of 2013, after the military-led ouster of the country’s first democratically elected but divisive president, Mohamed Morsi, Egyptian security officers descended on a protest camp in Cairo, packed with his Islamist supporters, and killed hundreds. Soltan, an Ohio State University graduate and the son of a prominent member of the now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, was shot in the arm while working as a reporter for Western news organizations at the time in the Rabaa al-Adawiya Square.

He was eventually arrested by security forces and sentenced to life in prison on charges of spreading “fake news” in a mass trial widely condemned by rights groups.

In Cairo’s maximum-security Tora prison complex, Soltan said he endured torture overseen by el-Beblawi and other high-ranking officials. He said he was denied medical care for his bullet wound, beaten to unconsciousness, held in solitary confinement and forced to listen to the sounds of his father being tortured in a nearby cell. He lost 160 pounds over the course of a 16-month hunger strike to protest his imprisonment.

Under pressure from the Obama administration, Egypt released Soltan in 2015, although his father remains in prison.

The lawsuit names President Abel Fattah el-Sissi, intelligence chief Abbas Kamel and three other former senior security officials as culpable, arguing they should be served if they set foot in the United States.

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