US calls for rights in Egypt but says ex-PM immune

Egypt's then prime minister Hazem al-Beblawi, seen speaking on state television in 2014, has been granted immunity from a US lawsuit claiming torture
Egypt's then prime minister Hazem al-Beblawi, seen speaking on state television in 2014, has been granted immunity from a US lawsuit claiming torture - EGYPTIAN TV/AFP/File
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Washington (AFP)

US President Joe Biden's administration said Tuesday it would keep pressing Egypt on human rights but it granted immunity to a former prime minister accused of torture.

Mohamed Soltan, a US citizen, filed the lawsuit saying he was nearly killed during two years in prison after then general Abdel Fattah al-Sisi took power in 2013.

Under a US law for torture victims, Soltan filed a lawsuit last year against Hazem al-Beblawi, who was prime minister in 2013 and 2014 and later served as Egypt's representative to the International Monetary Fund in Washington.

In a filing submitted last week, the US government said that Beblawi left his IMF position on October 31 but that Soltan presented the lawsuit in June when he still was immune from US laws.

The former prime minister's "change of status has no effect," acting assistant attorney general Brian Boynton wrote, "because plaintiff claims to have served (Beblawi) while he enjoyed diplomatic agent status."

Soltan's case has come under renewed attention as he said that authorities have harassed his relatives in Egypt, apparently as retaliation for the lawsuit.

The Biden administration has voiced concern for Soltan's relatives as well as others who have been imprisoned or reported harassment in Egypt.

"We continue to seek to promote a stable and prosperous Egypt where, importantly, the government protects the rights of all individuals," State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters, while declining comment on the court filing.

Biden has vowed to make human rights a top priority including with close allies -- a sharp change from former president Donald Trump who saw Sisi as an ally due in part to his cooperation with Israel and campaigns against Islamists.

Critics say Biden sent mixed messages by also approving nearly $200 million in missiles for Egypt, but the State Department said the sale was a routine refurbishment of equipment for sea defenses.

Biden has also shifted the tone with Saudi Arabia by releasing intelligence that linked Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, another close Trump ally, with the gruesome killing of US-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi.