As Vice President Mike Pence gears up to for his visit to Egypt next month, friends and relatives of people who have recently been jailed there are looking to him for help in releasing them.
Aayah Khalaf has been trying to appeal to the U.S. State Department on behalf of her parents, who were arrested at their seaside home in Egypt just as they were about to move to Seattle, NPR reported.
Khalaf said her parents were placed in a mass anti-terrorism trial and that she still doesn’t really know why they’re being held.
“They’re in, like, kind of a very small room without windows, without air ventilation,” she said on NPR on Christmas Day. “They have no access to food or getting outside to exercise. They don’t see anyone. They’re completely isolated from anyone else. No one is allowed to visit them – not us or the lawyer. That’s basically what we know.”
Khalaf said she is particularly worried about her Qatar-born mother, who may be in the middle of a diplomatic squabble, since the case began when Egypt, Saudi Arabia and others broke ties with Qatar.
“She’s lost a lot of weight,” Khalaf said. “She’s lost conscious two times, and they refuse to give her any medical care.”
Khalaf was born in Texas, and her parents are green card holders, she said, adding that she knows she won’t get access to them since they are not U.S. citizens. However, she is making the case to the State Department’s office on Hostage Affairs since they have eight other family members who are citizens.
“That office’s responsibility includes helping not just American citizens actually, but also, explicitly, legal permanent residents with, quote, ‘strong ties to the United States,’” Khalaf’s attorney, Jared Genser, said on NPR. “The situation of Hosam Khalaf and Ola al-Qaradawi very clearly falls within the mandate of this office and the responsibility of the United States government.”
The family is also reaching out to the White House to appeal to Pence to raise the issue when he arrives in Cairo.
Another attorney, Preveen Madhiraju, is also reaching out to the White House on behalf of his two clients, a 52-year-old father form New York and a 27-year-old student, whom are both U.S. citizens.
Madhiraju, an attorney with nonprofit Pretrial Rights International, said the U.S. government should not sidestep the issue.
The State Department says it has been in contact with Egyptian authorities about these cases, according to NPR.