Aya Hijazi is resting at the Falls Church home of an in-law today, returning to the U.S. including for a visit to the White House, having been released by Egyptian authorities after being held in an Egyptian prison for three years with no charges or legal proceedings. U.S. Rep. Don Beyer, who spent today touring organizations and businesses in Falls Church, told the News-Press he was deeply gratified by the release, having spearheading efforts here to win her release.
“This wonderful news was a long time coming,” he said in a statement. “I feel a deep sense of joy and relief for Aya, her husband, their colleagues at Belady (the non-profit they created in Egypt to help homeless youth–ed.) who were imprisoned, as well as Aya’s mother Naglaa, sister Alaa and brother Basel. I offer my humble thanks and congratulations today to them and to her many friends who worked so hard to raise the profile of this case and pressure the Egyptian government to gain her freedom.”
Hijazi, who is Egyptian-American, was raised in Falls Church and attended George Mason University. Upon graduation, she and her husband, organized a non-profit in Cairo to help street children with basic services, but with the elevation of the Sisi regime to power in Egypt, there was a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and also on non-Egyptian non-profit organizations. Hijazi was arrested in May 2014 on charges of “child endangerment,” accused to recruiting street children for the Muslim Brotherhood and human trafficking, all “preposterous” claims, Beyer said, but there were no formal charges or court appearances.
Beyer brought up the case in letters and meetings with the Obama administration and helped organize pressure for her release with a September 2016 press conference, and won support in the effort from former Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry and other U.S. legislators including Sen. Tim Kaine, Marco Rubio and Gerry Connolly and the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Foundation to apply pressure that eventually succeeded. With no announcement or explanation, Hijazi’s jail cell was simply unlocked and she was allowed to leave.
According to Beyer, Hijazi and her husband are considering returning to Egypt to resume their work. “Even as we offer thanks for Aya’s release, we remember those who still suffer unjust imprisonment in Egypt and elsewhere. That we have won a battle in the cause of human rights does not lessen the need to speak out and fight for justice around the world,” Beyer said.