U.S. Representatives Don Beyer and Gerry Connolly are demanding the release of Falls Church native Aya Hijazi, who the representatives say has been falsely imprisoned without trial in Egypt for over two years. Beyer, a Falls Church native himself, met with Hijazi’s family and counsel from Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights on Thursday, Sept. 15 to discuss the conditions of Hijazi’s confinement.
They discussed 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, journalists, academics, artists and human rights organizations in Egyptian civil society.
After the meeting, Beyer was joined by Connolly and Chelsea Cowan, Hijazi’s close friend, at the U.S. Capitol for a press conference to discuss the case further. “The biggest thing was trying to bring this case to the attention of the administration,” Beyer said.
He added that he’s sure that the State Department is doing all that it can, but that he wanted to elevate the conversation about her imprisonment to the level of President Barack Obama ahead of his meeting with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi’s at the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly. On Wednesday, Sept. 21, El-Sisi will participate in a United Nations Security Council summit that will be attended by Obama, among other leaders of developed nations.
Beyer said that he and the others who are demanding the release of Hijazi, who graduated from George Mason University in 2009 with Bachelor of Arts in conflict analysis and resolution, wanted to also create public awareness about her imprisonment. “We wanted the people to care about Aya Hijazi and care about her release,” Beyer said. Otherwise, he said, the Egyptian government could continue to imprison Hijazi with impunity for years on end.
“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,” Beyer said in a press release about the meeting with Hijazi’s family.
“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.”
After graduating from George Mason, Hijazi attended law school in Cairo, where she met her husband Mohammed Hassanein. The couple used money saved for their wedding to found a non-governmental organization called Belady Foundation, an organization that says it’s devoted to development and humanitarian causes.
After an initiative to care for displaced children, Hijazi, Hassanein and five associates were arrested and placed in the 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. “Her whole purpose was bringing peace, so the last thing she would do is teach young children to join the Islamic Brotherhood,” Beyer said.
He added that before she was arrested, Hijazi was doing the type of work that “we believe makes society great and whole.” He said that here we believe that nonprofits and other community organizations take care of each other.
Beyer has been involved in Hijazi’s case before September 15, raising the matter several times with Secretary Kerry and encouraging fellow Members of Congress to call for improvement in Egypt’s record on human rights and due process.
“Egypt is an important security partner, as well as one of our largest aid recipients,” Beyer said. “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.”