MIDDLE EAST

Egypt frees U.S.-Egyptian national held in protest crackdown

Egypt has freed a young U.S.-Egyptian national after a harrowing two-year prison ordeal

A young U.S.-Egyptian national whose harrowing two-year prison ordeal included stretches of solitary confinement and a lengthy hunger strike was freed and allowed to leave Egypt early Saturday, his family said.

Mohamed Soltan, a 27-year-old graduate of Ohio State University, had been caught up in a government sweep targeting the now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, of which his father, Salah Soltan, is a prominent member.

Tens of thousands of the group’s supporters were jailed after the Egyptian military removed Islamist President Mohamed Morsi from office in the summer of 2013, and hundreds were killed in clashes with security forces. Soltan was accused of being an organizer of pro-Morsi protest camps that were violently dispersed by police and soldiers in August 2013.

In jailhouse photographs taken after he had been on a hunger strike for months to protest his imprisonment, Soltan appeared emaciated and semiconscious. His family, which had campaigned tirelessly for his release, had expressed fears that he was near death.

Egyptian officials cited by the Associated Press said Soltan had boarded an early-morning flight to Frankfurt, Germany, traveling with his U.S. passport, and was expected to travel on to the United States.

The legal circumstances of his release were not immediately clear. However, a presidential decree issued last year allows for foreign nationals accused of or convicted of crimes to be deported.

That provision was applied earlier this year to Australian journalist Peter Greste, who was imprisoned in Egypt for more than a year. He and two colleagues from the news channel Al Jazeera English were given seven-year sentences on terrorism-related charges.

In a statement, Soltan’s family described his physical condition as “dire,” expressing hopes he would recover with prompt medical treatment.

“By the grace of God, we are incredibly happy to confirm that Mohamed is on his way home after nearly two years in captivity,” the family said in a statement. It called his imprisonment a “dark chapter for Mohamed and our famiy.”

Soltan’s life sentence, handed down in April, had been condemned by the White House and the State Department. The family credited U.S. officials with securing his freedom, and thanked supporters who had worked to keep his cause in the public eye.

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