Aya Hijazi, an American charity worker imprisoned in Egypt, returned home last week thanks largely to the efforts of President Donald Trump. Here is the shocking story of how she, her husband, and their fellow human rights workers were imprisoned in Egypt, but eventually freed thanks in large part to Donald Trump’s talks with Egypt’s dictator, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
Aya and her husband, a native Egyptian named Mohamed Hassanein, started a charity in the Egyptian city of Cairo. The charity was called the Belady Foundation, and Aya and her husband founded it to help homeless children.
But in 2014, Egyptian authorities charged her with sexual abuse and human trafficking. Her husband and other workers within the Belady Foundation were also charged. These were serious allegations, and human rights groups argued that the charges were unsubstantiated and false.
Aya was not given access to a lawyer. She was held without a pretrial. Egypt has a legal limit of two years for provisional detention, meaning that within that time period, a judge must hear at least the pretrial of your case before deciding to continue to hold you in prison or not. Aya was not allowed that, and she was in prison for three years.
Human rights groups used the case as an example of human rights violations under Sissi. The website Human Rights Watch profiled the case, pointing out that the police had no warrant and that other people who have no connection with Aya, but were in the same building, were also arrested. Aya and her husband were denied bail, and their trials kept getting delayed. They were essentially being held for no reason.
Aya’s trial took a dark turn for the children she was trying to help a well. The children who were at the foundation were detained by police when Aya was arrested. Human rights workers said that the children were beaten and abused while in police custody.
In Virginia, Aya’s family petitioned the Obama administration to take up her case. They used social media to petition Obama to intervene on behalf of their daughter. The U.S. embassy in Egypt did their best, but relations between the two countries were cold. Nobody could do anything to help her, and Aya stayed in prison.
But this year, there was a break in the case. President Trump and Sissi met in the first week of April. The meeting did wonders to improve relations between the U.S. and Egypt. Trump praised Sissi and said that he had done a fantastic job considering the difficulties he faced as president of Egypt. With the support of the U.S. now behind him, Sissi was warm to U.S. relations.
After the meeting with Trump, Sissi’s government dropped all charges against Aya. An administration official told the press that whatever the charges were, the Egyptian government would drop them and send her home. They even sent a government plane to ferry her and her husband across the Atlantic and back to America.
“As you can imagine, they’re overjoyed, they’re stunned. These last 72 hours have been understandingly overwhelming but they’re in good spirits.”
After three years in prison, at 30-years-old, Aya was free. She stopped in Washington, D.C., to meet with President Trump who said he was happy to see her.
“We are very happy to have Aya back home and it’s a great honor to have her in the Oval Office with her brother and thank you very much.”
Tonight at President Trump’s rally in Pennsylvania to celebrate the landmark of his first 100 days in office, he said that he was very proud to have worked to free Aya and that it was one of his proudest accomplishments so far.
[Featured Image by Susan Walsh/AP Images]