State Department officials say they will raise concerns with Egypt over the "tragic and avoidable" death of an American citizen who had been detained for more than six years. New York City resident Moustafa Kassem was arrested amid political upheaval in Egypt during a trip to visit family in August 2013, NPR reports. His lawyers say that after a liquids-only hunger strike that started last year, Kassem stopped taking liquids on Thursday. Relatives say the 54-year-old was arrested for no good reason after going to a shopping mall to change money. He was held in pretrial detention for more than five years before he was sentenced to 15 years in prison following a mass trial involving hundreds of defendants. Kassem, who had a wife and two children, died on Monday.
"His death in custody was needless, tragic, and avoidable," State Department official David Schenke said Monday, per Reuters. Relatives say Kassem was not involved in politics and was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was arrested days before he was due to return to the US. His brother-in-law, Mustafa Ahmed, wrote in the New York Times after Kassem was sentenced in 2018 that when they were stopped by soldiers, Kassem produced his US passport. "Moustafa saw his blue passport as a shield, his bulletproof armor, which carried the protection and the force of the United States government behind it," he wrote—but an enraged soldier called Kassem a spy and arrested him. Ahmed wrote that Kassem told him after years of being held in dire conditions that he "would rather starve to death than rot slowly and silently here in this hell." (Read more Egypt stories.)