Concern for US citizen on hunger strike in Cairo jail

North African cities, such as Cairo shown here, are leading the way as the continent and its growing middle class lay down "solid economic roots" which are very appealing to investors, report says (AFP Photo/Gianluigi Guercia)

Washington (AFP) - The family of an American citizen on hunger strike in an Egyptian jail for some 250 days are appealing to the US government to press Cairo to let him go, fearing his life is at risk.

Mohamed Soltan, 26, a bilingual dual US-Egyptian national, has been refusing food since January 26 to protest his continued detention on what his family calls "fabricated evidence" after he was arrested for working with media outlets covering Egypt's political upheavals.

The Ohio State University graduate has been charged with "spreading false information" to destabilize the country, Amnesty International says, after being arrested during a much-criticized widescale military crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood after president Mohamed Morsi was ousted by the military.

Soltan was not really a supporter of Morsi "or political in any way really," his sister Hanaa Soltan told AFP, adding her brother, however, "was definitely anti-military rule."

"He had been pro-revolution in 2011, and didn't like the fact that there was military rule coming back so soon, so easily."

Egyptian authorities had raided the family home looking for his father, Salah Soltan, who had a post in Morsi's government as deputy minister of religious endowments, and Mohamed was "caught in the crossfire," his sister said.

After being bounced around different police stations, he has been charged and held with little access to outside visitors, apart from weekly visits from his mother and occasional authorized trips from US consular officials. He is due back in court on Saturday.

The last medical records obtained by the family some three months ago showed he had already lost some 45 kilos by then (just under 100 pounds), and his family is concerned about his failing health.

"My mom says he looks like death. There's been a few instances when he hasn't been able to come out for the visits, he was either hospitalized inside the prison hospital, or completely unconscious," said Hanaa Soltan.

She urged Washington to pressure the Egyptian authorities into letting her brother go.

"I think that it's on the US government to say 'Well you've got our citizen and if you want to continue receiving our support, you need to give him a fair trial or release him so that he can receive proper medical care.'"

- US concern for health -

The State Department has voiced concern about Soltan's health, and US consular officials have attended all except one of his court hearings.

"We spoke with him on the phone on September 17 and we're also seeking permission for an additional visit as soon as possible," said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

"We remain deeply concerned by ongoing politicized arrests and detentions in Egypt, including his detention. We continue to raise this case with Egyptian officials at the highest level."

Rights groups are also pressing for Soltan's release.

"Mohamed Soltan should not have been in jail in the first place and what he is accused of should not be a criminal offense. Now, the authorities are toying with his life in this manner," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International's deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa program.

"The authorities have an obligation to ensure that all detainees in their custody are granted access to adequate medical care."