Ohio State graduate Mohamed Soltan was sentenced to life in prison on Saturday after being imprisoned in Egypt since August 2013.
The verdict came after more than 25 postponed court hearings since August 2013, said Masoud Nafey, a member of the Free Soltan campaign and Soltan’s close friend.
Soltan, a dual American-Egyptian citizen, was arrested in Egypt in August 2013 after the military coup and overthrow of former President Mohammed Morsi. Morsi’s time in office was filled with political unrest amongst citizens, despite his being the first democratically elected Egyptian president.
Soltan was participating in a Muslim Brotherhood-led protest in a square in Cairo in August of that year to defend democracy when he was shot in the arm. As many as 900 people were killed in the square that day, according to The New York Times.
The Muslim Brotherhood is the Islamic political party Morsi represented.
Soltan was later arrested in his home while recovering from surgery to remove the bullet. He has been imprisoned under charges of being involved with a terrorist organization and spreading false news to foreign media, Nafey said.
Soltan also began a hunger strike Jan. 26, 2014. It has been over a year, and Soltan still refuses food in an effort to fight for his freedom, said Omar Soltan, Mohamed’s brother.
In response to Saturday’s verdict, the U.S. State Department has repeatedly called for Mohamed Soltan’s release, according to Abderrahmane Amor, a friend of Mohamed Soltan and a second-year in public affairs and Islamic studies at OSU.
The Egyptian government, however, has not taken action in response to the U.S. requests. Free Soltan campaign managers said the Egyptian government response has been to allow the legal process to take its full course, and the government has been reluctant to get involved.
As a decision has now been made, “the responsibility is firmly on the U.S. government to ensure that Mohamed is brought home today before tomorrow,” Nafey said.
The campaign is continuing to raise awareness and pressure the U.S. government to provide aid, Amor said. Members of the campaign are also in the process of planning to speak with officials at the African Union.
The campaign members, as well as Mohamed Soltan’s family, hope to see Egyptian President Fattah el-Sisi extradite Mohamed Soltan in a way similar to Peter Greste, an Al Jazeera Latvian-Australian journalist who was released after spending 400 days in the same Egyptian prison.
“While it’s terrible (Mohamed Soltan) got the life sentence, at the same time, it’s a step in the right direction,” Amor said. “Every major news station is finally recognizing (Mohamed) Soltan’s situation, and people are now understanding that this regime is truly corrupt.”
Mohamed and Omar Soltan’s father, Salah Soltan, has also been charged under various cases and was sentenced to death on Saturday.
“My family is having a hard time absorbing what happened,” said Omar Soltan. “Despite knowing this was a possibility, nothing can prepare us for something like this.”
Mohamed and Omar Soltan’s mother recently visited the two in Egypt, and said Mohamed Soltan and his father are very hopeful for the future.
Omar Soltan said his brother will continue with his hunger strike.
“They (Mohamed Soltan and his father) are our main source of strength, steadfastness and hope,” he said.