Egyptian activist and former detainee, Mohamed Salah Soltan, described the dispersal by the military-coup’s authorities of the sit-in staged by protestors of the coup at the Rabaa Adaweyya square on August 14, 2013, as the worst day of his life.
During the first part of his interview on the ‘Without Borders’ program on Al-Jazeera on June 8 which hosted Soltan on the first anniversary of his release from the military-coup’s prisons in Egypt as a result of American pressure, he said that, “It was a nightmarish day. All entry-exit points of the square were sealed. Military personnel and officers were firing indiscriminately at the protestors in all directions. It was as if we were in a war-zone.” He mentioned that he was struck by a bullet in his left arm.
He said, “We were bewildered and people were escaping death only to seek refuge in death itself. I will never forget the scene of an officer who was pointing his pistol towards the head of a man in his fifties and telling him: See us, what we are doing for the sake of Egypt, and you here are infidels, hypocrites and khārijites.”
About his arrest which took place on August 25, 2013, Soltan says: “There were three journalists with me in the apartment. Two from al-Rassd website – Abdullah al-Fakharany and Samhy Mustafa – and one reporter of Amjaad channel – Mohamed al-Adly. All three are accused in the “Rabaa Terror Cell” case and have been sentenced to life imprisonment. They currently languish in the Scorpion prison in the worst possible conditions.”
He further said: “Twenty policemen and military personnel entered the apartment armed with machine-guns and began to beat us. Then they took us to the Basateen police station and detained us in a room called ‘the Freezer’. It has been named this because a detainee is kept in a blocked state until a report is prepared; a summons is issued in his name; accusations are framed; and a case is opened.”
Soltan pointed out that the accusation made against him by the State Security Prosecutor was of having links with the Muslim Brotherhood. Later, he was accused of spreading false news abroad that affected state security. These are the same accusations that were made against the two al-Jazeera journalists. The charges were baseless and there was no proof or evidence to support them.
He explained that because the global community had erupted over the al-Jazeera journalists’ case, this time round the authorities added leaders of the Brotherhood and supporters of Gamaa Islamiyah to this case in which he was accused. They named it the ‘Rabaa Terror Cell’ case and made it appear different from the journalists’ case branding it as an Islamist case so that the western world would not focus on it too much.
Soltan said that the prosecutor and the judge in the ‘Rabaa Terror Cell’ case had no relationship with the law. They used to say to the accused “This country is our property,” and they used to ask him about his political leanings and his opinions regarding the deposed president Mohamed Morsi. He said he was counting on the integrity of certain judges, “Unfortunately though, the judges are politicised and they are merely present to carry out orders.”
He termed the treatment meted out to detainees by military personnel and police officers in the police stations and prisons as “savagely”. Methods of torture varied between incessant beating, imprisonment in dark cells, disallowance of visits and letting the conditions of toilets and bathrooms deteriorate to a limit where a man could not use them at all. He described the cells as akin to “graves for the living”. The worst part of this torture was the mental suffering of the detainees who did not know what would happen to them next. Soltan asserted the presence of more than 60,000 detainees who currently occupy Egyptian prisons and detention centres. Most of them, he says, are from among the “purest and best Egyptian youth” who come from all political backgrounds and who have been arrested from the street without any judicial order or accusation against them.
Mohamed Soltan returned to Egypt from America during the 25 January 2011 revolution to achieve the dream of change in his country along with his many young Egyptian compatriots.
When the army staged a coup to depose Mohamed Morsi – Egypt’s first fairly elected leader – on July 3, 2013, Soltan participated in the sit-in staged by opponents of the coup at the Rabaa Adaweyya square, rejecting the military’s guardianship over the freedom of people to choose their own leader. When the army proceeded to disperse the sit-in forcefully on August 14, 2013, Soltan was shot in the arm. Soltan was later arrested on August 25, 2013, when the Egyptian State Security forces stormed his family’s home in order to arrest his father Salah. After five months, they were accused of participating in the Rabaa Terror Cell case.
On May 30, 2015, Soltan’s family and sources from his defence declared that Egyptian authorities had released him and extradited him to the United States after forcing him to forfeit his Egyptian citizenship in exchange for his freedom.