MURPHY: MUSTAFA KASSEM SHOULD HAVE NEVER DIED

Murphy Calls on the Trump Administration to Hold Egypt Accountable for Death of U.S. Citizen, Discusses National Security and Foreign Policy Consequences if We Don’t

WASHINGTON—Following the death of Egyptian-American Mustafa Kassem in Egypt this week, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), the top Democrat on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near East, South Asia, Central Asia and Counterterrorism, delivered remarks at the event, “An American Tragedy: Mustafa Kassem’s Needless Death in Sisi’s Prison.” Human rights advocates, U.S. citizens formerly held as political prisoners in Egypt, and elected officials spoke on the issue of Americans currently jailed in Egypt, and the dire conditions in Egypt’s prisons. The event was organized by the Project on Middle East Democracy, The Freedom Initiative, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights First, Pretrial Rights International and the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation.

Murphy said: “President Sisi has presided over a brutal crackdown on political dissent and political activity…[a]nd it's time that the Trump administration uses the leverage that it possesses and draws a harder line with the Egyptian government. We have leverage. We have influence. We are not using it today.”

Murphy continued: “…[Y]ou have to put the unfortunate death of Mustafa Kassem in the context of an administration that has frankly, abdicated its responsibility to lead globally on the issue of human rights and civil rights.”

On the global implications of the Trump administration looking the other way, Murphy said: “Dictators and quasi dictators and would-be dictators, they read a green light from this administration. When our ally Saudi Arabia gets away with kidnapping and dismembering an American resident, without any consequences. When the President of the Philippines can disappear and murder thousands and thousands of likely innocent civilians. When this administration allows for that kind of treatment to happen over and over and over again by our allies, it's understandable why people like President Sisi perceive that there will be no consequences if they continue to take a harder and harder line on political dissent. Why they perceive that there will be no consequences if they keep American citizens locked up on the precipice of death, day after day, week after week.”

A full transcript of Murphy’s remarks can be found below:

“Thank you very much for having me and for accommodating our schedules. We are in and out today with committees and votes, but this is the most important event on my schedule today. And I thank POMED and all your other partners for putting this together and for all of the activists in this room for making this a priority, coming and speaking truth to power here in Congress, where we have the ability to do something about this campaign of repression that continues in Egypt led by the Sisi regime.

“I'm deeply sorry that we are convened today on the heels of a tragic death. Mustafa Kassem should never have died. He should never have been in prison for as long as he was. He should have never been detained in the first place.

“President Sisi has presided over a brutal crackdown on political dissent and political activity. Thousands have been locked up, we know that there are at least a half dozen American citizens amongst that group, potentially more. Hundreds of websites have been shuttered. The regime has killed people. It's made others disappear. They regularly use intimidation and torture to try to quell political dissent.

“And it's time that the Trump administration uses the leverage that it possesses and draws a harder line with the Egyptian government. We have leverage. We have influence. We are not using it today.

“But you have to put the unfortunate death of Mustafa Kassem in the context of an administration that has frankly, abdicated its responsibility to lead globally on the issue of human rights and civil rights. Dictators and quasi dictators and would-be dictators, they read a green light from this administration.

“When our ally Saudi Arabia gets away with kidnapping and dismembering an American resident, without any consequences. When the President of the Philippines can disappear and murder thousands and thousands of likely innocent civilians. When this administration allows for that kind of treatment to happen over and over and over again by our allies, it's understandable why people like President Sisi perceive that there will be no consequences if they continue to take a harder and harder line on political dissent. Why they perceive that there will be no consequences if they keep American citizens locked up on the precipice of death, day after day, week after week.

“And so, we need to take a harder line with the Egyptian government and Congress has given the president the tools to do that. The Appropriations Committee, upon which I sit, has passed legislation that gives the president the ability and authority to stop our aid to that country unless there is real progress being made and the president needs to make those certifications to Congress. So, we have given him the ability to take a tougher line. Congress has taken a tougher line. But this needs to be global in nature. 

“This administration needs to understand that the reason that we care about civil rights and human rights all over the world is not simply because we are an altruistic nation; it is because protecting people's civil rights and human rights abroad is about protecting the security of this nation. Democracies these days, don't attack each other. They are places where people can speak for themselves without fear of retribution, are places that are more politically stable, not places that are more politically unstable.

“And when you lock people up in prison, for years after years after years, some of them never get out, but many of them do. Some of them become radicalized in most places, some of them ultimately come out and join groups that are a danger to the United States and our allies.

“So, the long-term consequences of this kind of repression is not good for the United States, it is not good for our allies. We care about civil rights and human rights around the world because we see our nation as having a global responsibility to protect the ability of every human being on this planet, to be able to participate in the arrangement and destiny of their own affairs.

“But we also know that by standing up for human rights and civil rights globally, we are protecting U.S. national security. The ability for people to speak truth to power across the world leads to more stable places, to more stable nations, which accrues to the benefit of our security at home.

“And so, I'm grateful today that we are focusing on this crisis in Egypt. I'm hopeful that this administration is going to use the tools given to it by Congress to take a harder line. But if they do, I hope that it is a beginning of a much harder line taken. Not just in the context of our bilateral relationship with Egypt, but across the greater Middle East and across the world. Thank you very much for having us here. I know many of my colleagues will be coming in as their schedules permit later in the day. Look forward to working with all of you.”

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