An Egyptian criminal court sentenced a dual U.S.-Egyptian citizen on a months long hunger strike to life in prison Saturday on charges of financing an anti-government sit-in and spreading false news.
Mohammed Soltan, the son of a prominent member of the now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, was arrested in August 2013, when security forces came looking for his father at his house. They didn't find the father at the time, but arrested him instead, Soltan's family said.
The 27 year old been on a hunger strike over his detention for more than 14 months and his health is rapidly deteriorating, his family said.
The court also upheld death sentences for 14 people, including Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badie and Soltan's father, Saleh, and sentenced 36 others beside Soltan to life in prison.
None of the defendants were present in the courtroom as Judge Mohammed Nagi Shehata read out his ruling. Shehata has developed a reputation for harsh sentences against perceived government critics. Last year he sentenced three journalists from Al-Jazeera English to jail terms ranging from seven to 10 years, a verdict that exposed Egypt to global complaints of suppressing media freedom.
In a statement after Soltan's sentencing, the U.S. Embassy in Cairo said it remained "gravely concerned" about him and the outcome of his case.
"We will continue to monitor his case closely and to provide him with all possible support," the embassy said. "His health and well-being remain of particular concern and remain a top priority to us."
The case is rooted in violence that swept the country after the military-led ouster in 2013 of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, a Brotherhood leader, whose supporters set up protest camps in Cairo. Security forces violently dispersed the sit-ins in August 2013, killing hundreds. In retaliation, many police stations and churches came under attack.
Since Morsi's ouster, Egypt has faced international criticism for conducting mass trials with judges issuing severe sentences.
Since the uprising that toppled former President Hosni Mubarak in early 2011, his military and political establishment have fought hard and largely successfully to stuff the genie of political change back in the bottle. Show trials and extended pre-trial detention have been a large part of that effort.