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Monday, September 30, 2013

A Detained Egyptian-American Activist’s Letter to His Mother

As our colleague David Kirkpatrick reports, smuggled letters from three North Americans detained during Egypt’s security crackdown last month “offer a rare outsiders’ perspective on longstanding Egyptian prison conditions.”

One letter, written by the Canadian doctor Tarek Loubani and John Greyson, a filmmaker, was released on Saturday. Below is the complete text of a second letter, from Mohamed Soltan, an Egyptian-American activist who was shot during a raid on an Islamist sit-in in Cairo and then detained by Egypt’s military-led government.

My Dearest Mama,

I pray that this letter finds you in the best of health and the highest of spirits. Not often do we find ourselves in circumstances that prevent us from communicating with our loved ones, but unfortunately that is my current situation. As I sit in my cell, isolated from the entire world, I write this letter with the sincere hope that it finds its way to you, and conveys to you how much I love you, and long for your embrace.

Mama, I know you have many questions about what happened to me and how I ended up in this situation. Two weeks ago, the police stormed our home and arrested me and my guests who were visiting following a surgery to remove a bullet lodged in my arm from a gunshot wound I suffered in Rabaa on August 14, 2013. We were taken to a police station and tossed into a room nicknamed ‘The Fridge,” which was a room without seats, benches, windows, and lights. I was not allowed a phone call, nor any communication with a lawyer, with one guard quipping that he could get me anything I wanted, drugs, alcohol, prostitutes. Just not due process.

The next morning the officers blindfolded me and led me to a room where a man I could not see asked me a series of questions about our home, our family, and our reasons for being in the country. I was then told I would be formally charged with 6 crimes: funding a terrorist organization; membership in a terrorist organization; membership in an armed militia; disturbing the peace; falsifying and spreading rumors about the internal affairs of Egypt; and finally, the killing of protestors. I was completely shocked that such charges, none of which had any basis in reality, would be so casually brought against me, and thought of the future plans I had for my career, and family, and thought that they would all be so casually ruined by this sham I was being subjected to.

The brutality with which I have been treated has been mind boggling. During the day, soldiers and police would get in two straight lines, and we would have to run in between them as they beat us with rocks and sticks. They roused anger amongst the officers by falsely proclaiming that we had killed police officers. The officers stripped off our pants and shirts as they beat us with clubs. They put us in jail cells with what must have been 60 other inmates, and it was terribly hot and water was not made available to us. I saw an inmate suffer a heart attack right before my eyes and not receive proper medical attention. The surgical wound on my arm was open and oozing, and not one of the guards seemed to care because I was labeled a political prisoner.

I am moved frequently, precluding visits from my extended family here in Egypt, as well as the American Embassy in Cairo. The police officers routinely exhibit great amount of disdain towards us. One officer sarcastically shared with a fellow officer that he was confused as to why they hadn’t just shoot us dead and that he hoped we would attempt to escape so they could hunt us like chickens and kill us. At one of the prisons, I was handcuffed to another inmate, mandating that when I used the bathroom I had to take him in with me.

My fellow inmates aren’t members of the Muslim Brotherhood, nor am I. My fellow inmates are the impoverished, the disenfranchised, the ill, the homeless. In short, the forgotten. One fellow inmate is an 11 year old accused of theft, another a man picked up while visiting relatives in jail, and yet another a former government employee forced to take the rap for more senior officials. These men’s freedom does not threaten national security or public safety; they threaten the financial security of those that imprison them. 200 Egyptian pounds are paid to the prosecutor for every Egyptian he puts in a prison. The culture of corruption in Egypt is thriving and is more ingrained and widespread than ever.

Mama, I do not tell you these things to make you fret. You raised me as a proud American and an Egyptian. My American identity has afforded me the opportunity to taste freedom, to breathe its limitless air, and to enjoy the liberties given to me. My Egyptian identity sincerely desires those very same privileges, and to witness Egyptians be deprived of those rights motivates me to persevere and to work towards their cause. Khalil Gibran once said that birds don’t build their nests within a cage so that their offspring don’t inherit slavery. These are the principles that the American founding fathers also spoke highly of. The people of Egypt, have the natural right to freedom.

Mama, it is my hope that we will be reunited again, and I can rest my head on your lap, as the family gathers and rejoices with happiness. My heart hurts to see all your faces. Know that you, father, and my siblings are in each and every one of my prayers. I love you all.

Your loving son,

Mohamed Soltan

Iran’s Foreign Minister Calls the Holocaust ‘a Heinous Crime’ and ‘a Genocide’

Video of Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, discussing his country’s nuclear program, relations with the United States and the Holocaust with ABC News on Sunday.

Iran’s foreign minister insisted on Sunday that his country does not deny the historical reality of the Holocaust, which he called “a heinous crime,” and “a genocide,” which “must never be allowed to be repeated.”

Near the end of an interview with ABC News that was otherwise concerned with negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program and the prospect of improved relations with the United States, Iran’s chief diplomat, Mohammad Javad Zarif, was challenged on his claim during a Twitter conversation about the Holocaust last month that “Iran never denied it.” He argued that a statement calling the Holocaust a “myth” still posted on the English-language Web site of Iran’s leader, Ayatllah Ali Khamenei, was poorly translated from Persian.

Mr. Zarif, who is fluent enough in both American culture and English to have included a reference to the film “Lost in Translation” in his response, skirted around the convening of a state-supported conference for Holocaust deniers in Tehran in 2006, and referred to a series of previous remarks by Iranian officials on Israel and the Holocaust that have set off disputes about the parsing Persian remarks and metaphors.

I have spoken to the leader on this issue; he rejects and condemns the killing of innocent people…. No, the Holocaust is not a myth. Nobody’s talking about a myth. If it’s said â€" I haven’t seen it â€" if it’s there it’s a bad translation, and it is translated out of context and they are using it…. He was talking about the reaction to somebody talking about a historical faâ€"incident and requiring research about that historical incident, and said, ‘What is it that people are so upset that people are simply asking that we should do some studies of that?’

But, you see, this is the problem when you translate something from Persian to English, you may lose something â€" as the film goes, ‘Lost in Translation’ â€" you may lose some of the meaning. This has been unfortunately the case several times over.

Mr. Zarif then took up an argument made by Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, last week: the claim that Israel has used the mass murder of European Jews by Nazi Germany to shield the Middle Eastern state from criticism of its treatment of the Palestinians.

The point is: we condemn the killing of innocent people, whether it happened in Nazi Germany or whether it’s happening in Palestine. One crime, however heinous â€" and Holocaust was a heinous crime, it was a genocide, it must never be allowed to be repeated â€" but that crime cannot be, and should not be, a justification to trample the rights of the Palestinian people for 60 years. We should abandon this game and start recognizing the fact that without respect for the rights of the Palestinians, we will never have peace in our region.

Asked if the translation of the leader’s remarks would be changed on his Web site, Mr. Zarif said, “I will talk to them.” One day later, the translation remains on Khamenei.ir, unchanged, along with several similar statements.