Members of Congress Join Aya Hijazi’s Family to Demand Her Immediate Release from Egyptian Prison
Washington, September 15, 2016
U.S. Representative Don Beyer today met with the family of his constituent Aya Hijazi, who has been imprisoned without trial in Egypt for over two years. Beyer was joined in his office by Hijazi’s brother Basel, and sister Alaa, as well as counsel from RFK Human Rights.
They discussed the conditions of Hijazi’s confinement, the lack of evidence presented by Egyptian authorities to support their charges, the breakdown in due process which has resulted in seven trial postponements, and the broader crackdown on non-governmental organizations (NGOs), journalists, academics, artists, and human rights organizations in Egyptian civil society.
“Aya Hijazi has been illegally detained in pre-trial detention on dubious charges for over two years. The Egyptian government should immediately release her and I urge the U.S. government to do everything in its power to secure her release” said Rep. Don Beyer. “Aya’s continued detention violates legal standards set by the United Nations, the African Union, and Egypt’s own laws. Despite the extraordinary length of this pre-trial detention, the Egyptian government still cannot present any evidence against her. Aya should be free.”
"Aya is a humanitarian, not a criminal. Instead of being free to serve those who are less fortunate, she has been forced to serve time behind bars," said Hijazi’s family in a joint statement. "Our demand is simple: bring her home to us. Free Aya now."
Following their meeting, they were joined by Northern Virginia U.S. Representative Gerry Connolly and Hijazi’s close friend Chelsea Cowan at the U.S. Capitol for a press conference to discuss the case with reporters.
"The Egyptian government has engaged in a well-documented campaign to suppress NGOs and human rights organizations by leveling false criminal charges against their employees,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly. “Aya Hijazi, an American working in Egypt, has been swept up by this campaign and her continued detention is unacceptable. I am glad to join Rep. Beyer and Aya's family to advocate for her release, and, once again, press the Egyptian government to observe human rights standards and uphold the rule of law."
Aya Hijazi (also spelled “Hegazy” in some press stories) is a dual citizen of the United States and Egypt. She grew up in Falls Church, Virginia and earned a B.A. in Conflict Analysis and Resolution from George Mason University in 2009. Aya attended law school in Cairo, where she met her husband, Mohammed Hassanein.
The couple used money saved for their wedding to found an NGO called the Belady (“Our Country”) Foundation, devoted to development and humanitarian causes.
"The arbitrary arrest and ongoing illegal detention of Aya Hijazi are clear and egregious violations of her human rights," said Wade McMullen, Managing Attorney at Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. "There is no justification in law or in fact to continue holding her behind bars."
After an initiative to care for displaced children (colloquially known as “street children”), Hijazi, Hassanein, and five associates were arrested and placed in detention by the Egyptian government. The arrests took place amid a backdrop of a widespread crackdown on NGO’s, journalists, academics, artists, and human rights organizations.
“Egypt is an important security partner, as well as one of our largest aid recipients” added Beyer. “This partnership is deeply undermined by the detention of American citizens on dubious charges, without evidence and with an apparent political motivation. Enough is enough. It’s time to free Aya.”
Rep. Beyer has been involved in Hijazi’s case, raising the matter several times with Secretary Kerry and the State Department, and encouraging fellow Members of Congress to call for improvement in Egypt’s record on human rights and due process.