American's smuggled letter from Egyptian jail details abuse

In this undated photo, Mohamed Soltan appears at a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan. An American citizen, Soltan is being held in Egypt and has smuggled out a letter to his mother. Courtesy Hanaa Soltan

An American citizen being held without charge in Egypt has smuggled a letter out of prison describing his detainment.

The letter, addressed to "My Dearest Mama," details Mohamed Soltan's claim that he has been beaten with sticks, denied basic medical care and forced to stay in a room dubbed "The Fridge," because of it's lack of windows, light or places to sit, in one of Egypt's most notorious prisons. Soltan said one guard joked that he could provide "drugs, alcohol, prostitutes. Just not due process."

The letter reflects how the treatment of Egyptian political detainees now appears to extend to Westerners caught up in the chaos that has followed the country's military takeover.

Soltan, is a 25-year-old Egyptian-American and graduate of the Ohio State University. He is also an activist with the "Anti-Coup Coalition," an umbrella organization led mainly by the Islamist supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi.

He worked in the organization's media center during the summer sit-in protest at Cairo's Al Raba’a Square where Islamists gathered to demonstrate against what they considered to be a military coup that ousted Morsi.

On Aug. 14, Egyptian police, backed by the military, moved in to break up the protest. During the security operation on protesters, which reportedly killed hundreds, Soltan was shot in the arm. Weeks later, while still recovering in his apartment, police arrested him and several others. 

According to the letter, Soltan was accused of crimes including funding and membership in a terrorist organization, disturbing the peace, falsifying and spreading rumors, and killing protesters. "None of [the charges] had any basis in reality," he wrote in his letter.

Soltan wrote that his gunshot wound was splitting open and "oozing" while in custody, but that he was unable to treat it. He said guards, inciting each other by claiming Soltan and his fellow inmates had killed police officers, would beat the prisoners with rocks and sticks. 

His father, Salah Soltan, is a well-known professor at Cairo University and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. He was also recently jailed for an open letter he wrote in support of the Brotherhood.

But Mohamed Soltan was simply "pro-democracy and anti-coup," according to his older sister Hanaa Soltan.

"My brother believes in democracy," Hanaa said in a phone interview with NBC News Thursday. "It didn't matter to him what party was in power, so long as they came to power via free and fair elections.”

She said her brother went to Egypt in January 2011 to join the revolution, but did not support the army's move to topple Morsi two years later.

Soltan graduated from Ohio State in 2012 with a degree in economics and was working in business development for a petroleum services company in Cairo at the time of his arrest, his sister said. The family has no idea when -- or if -- he will be formally charged with any crimes, she added. 

The government has launched a massive crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, arresting its leadership and most outspoken members -- including the elder Soltan -- and forcing many of its rank-and-file members into hiding. A Cairo court has also ordered the state to confiscate all of the Brotherhood’s assets and has banned the organization, its members and affiliates from activity in the country.

Two Canadian citizens also managed in recent weeks to give a glimpse into their detention by smuggling an account of their confinement in Egypt's Tora prison. 

Tarek Loubani and John Greyson were arrested in Egypt at a police checkpoint. They, too, have been held without charges for weeks. A website has been set up to raise the profile of their detention.

In Soltan's letter to his mother, he signed off by saying: "You raised me as a proud American and an Egyptian. My American identity has afforded me the opportunity to taste freedom, to breathe its limitless air, and to enjoy the liberties given to me ... These are the principles that the American founding fathers also spoke highly of. The people of Egypt have the natural right to freedom."