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American Facing Death Penalty in Egypt for Hemp Oil [FEATURE]

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #670)
Drug War Issues

A US citizen jailed as a drug trafficker in Egypt in December after importing a shipment of non-drug hemp oil there was freed from jail late last month when mobs of protestors overran prisons across Cairo, but remains in legal limbo. Mostafa Soliman, who operates a company called Health Harvest, has so far been refused a new passport by the US Embassy in Cairo, which means he cannot leave the country. He faces a possible death penalty if convicted of drug trafficking.

Mostafa Soliman
According to the Death Penalty Project of the International Harm Reduction Association, Egypt is one of 32 countries that have laws mandating the death penalty for some drug offenses on the books. While Egypt is not among the leading drug offender executioner countries, such as Iran, China, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Singapore, and Malaysia, drug offenders do get executed there, the first one in 1989.

Soliman, 62, was born in Egypt and has retained Egyptian citizenship, but the dual citizen has resided in the US for the past 40 years. He had returned to Egypt to oversee the arrival of the hemp oil shipment.

When the shipment of bottled hemp oil arrived at Egyptian customs in December, authorities translated "hemp oil" as "hash oil," and that's when Soliman's life took a Kafkaesque turn. (Arabic does not have a distinct word for "hemp": any concoction from the cannabis plant, whether high THC or low THC, is simply called cannabis.

"Even the Egyptian drug enforcement people told me they knew it wasn't hash oil," Soliman said by phone from Cairo Friday night. "But they said they had to follow procedure."

That procedure resulted in a December 30 raid by drug enforcers on Soliman's storage facility and Soliman's arrest on drug trafficking charges. He was jailed pending trial, first at a neighborhood police station, and then, after the local police commander grew irritated by consular visits, transferred to one of Cairo's maximum security prisons.

"I was in an eight by eight cell that held as many as 30 people," said Soliman. "There were killers waiting to be hanged, thieves, rapists. That really upset me."

protests in Tahrir Square
]After Soliman had spent several weeks in prison, his Egyptian attorney managed to arrange bail, which would have allowed him to legally leave prison pending trial. But in a bizarre twist of fate, before he could be released, the current protests exploded in Cairo, and the city's prisons were besieged by mobs of uncertain provenance determined to free the prisoners. The prison guards fled the assault even as the prison caught on fire, leaving prisoners locked in their cells.

"I hid under the window," when the prison came under attack, Soliman said. "I was afraid of the Molotov Cocktails. Then the protestors came and broke the locks on the cells and freed us. It was all planned out. They knew all the military was being moved to the square for the protests and there would be little security at the prisons."

Soliman said he thought the Moslem Brotherhood was behind the attacks on the prisons, but like much else in the current crisis, the truth about that is obscure.

After fleeing the prison, Soliman went into hiding in Cairo, and contacted the US Embassy for help. He sought help in translating research reports on hemp and on obtaining a new passport -- Egyptian authorities had seized his, which meant he was effectively unable to leave the country.

But not much help was forthcoming, said both Soliman and members of the Hemp Industries Association (HIA) and Vote Hemp, leading industry advocacy groups in the US that have taken up Soliman's cause.

"I face a death penalty for selling drugs," Soliman said. "I was hoping for the embassy to help me translate some analyses and reports from the States to help me prove my case, but they don't want to do anything. I did it myself, and spent $3,000 to get it done."

organic hemp seed oil label, from Soliman's company, Health Harvest
Nor would the embassy issue him a new passport. "I went to the embassy and a representative came out and said he would try to help me," recalled Soliman. "After I waited outside for three hours, he came back out and said a photo would expedite the process. I came back with the photo the next day, and he took it and again I waited outside for two hours. Then he came out and said he could not help me," he said.

"I don't know what's going on with these people; the embassy has not been very helpful at all. They're not cooperating," he said.

"The US Embassy has not treated this US citizen with any respect," said Vote Hemp spokesman Adam Eidinger. "Our attorneys sent them a letter, and they acknowledged receipt of it and said they are looking into it, but the embassy has not been sympathetic."

Vote Hemp and the HIA launched an action alert Friday afternoon in a bid to raise the profile of the case. The alert calls on people to write Secretary of State Clinton and urge her to ensure that Soliman is issued a new passport.

"We hope the action alert will generate thousands of letters to the secretary of state," said Eidinger. "We want them to take up his cause and give him a passport. Right now, he's in legal limbo. If he goes to the airport in Cairo, he will be arrested. The only reason we can tell they won't give him a passport is these drug charges. This man's life is on the line. If he's convicted, they could kill him. Egypt does have the death penalty for drug smuggling," he emphasized.

Soliman's arrest and the US Embassy's failure to assist have aroused the ire of others in the US hemp industry. "The Egyptian authorities are just following the lead of their DEA counterparts in this ridiculous conflation of healthy, nutritious, non-drug hemp seed oil with the drug marijuana," said David Bronner, head of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps and a major player in the US hemp industry. "It's even more ridiculous when you consider that they are accusing someone of smuggling hash into Egypt in a hemp bottle. That is so clearly absurd."

"This is a tragic mistake that could be solved with a simple drug test. Mr. Soliman is being falsely accused of importing ‘hash oil’ when in fact it was healthy hemp food," said HIA executive director Eric Steenstra. "Our campaign to free Mostafa Soliman will hopefully jump-start action at the US State Department. We recognize that the unrest in Egypt will make it more difficult for US authorities to act, but this terrible mistake by Egyptian authorities was made well before the recent protests began and in many ways symbolizes the corruption the protestors are resisting," he added.

Until something happens, Soliman is stuck in Cairo and facing the dire prospect of being tried as a drug trafficker for importing a healthy food product. He said he hoped to be able to clear matters up, but that the ongoing political turmoil made his prospects unclear.

"If this situation gets worse, I'm not going to stick around," he said. "If it clears up, then maybe my attorney can clear up my legal situation. But I still need a passport."

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


We are so sorry to hear that this man has been detained for bringing a peaceful and benevolent gift of hemp oil and to be treated so terribly. We invite all you readers to send good thoughts and wishes to him as we are, and to perhaps engaging in a little phone calling or letter writing on the behalf of Industrial Hemp. The need increases for this abundant plant. Hemp as a raw material can make food, shelter, fabric, building materials, chemicals and much more -- without hurting the environment while providing economic benefit to many.

Mon, 02/07/2011 - 4:25pm Permalink
Kathryn in MA (not verified)

In reply to by The HempNow Team (not verified)

To expand on your industrial hemp information; i include here nutritional information - crucial information, considering that wheat crops are damaged and destroyed in many parts of the world. This source of nutrition is easily grown and only a handful of seeds a day can very easily sustain a person in good health.

Tue, 02/15/2011 - 12:38pm Permalink
W (not verified)

Hey, Hillary, you could get this guy out of the jam he's in with a phone call! Do it!


Mon, 02/07/2011 - 4:34pm Permalink
Keith (not verified)

And freedom and happiness to all political prisoners.  I apologize Dave and Mr. Soliman for the inappropriate outburst. I tend to be overly bitter and jaded although  i know it is no excuse.  Peace Love I'm out and this is my last post.

Mon, 02/07/2011 - 9:55pm Permalink
Wisdomofthepas… (not verified)

  • Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.

- Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5; Babylonian Talmud Tractate Sanhedrin 37a

Tue, 02/08/2011 - 6:37am Permalink
Warrior4Serenirty (not verified)

Death for Hemp Oil?

People stand up and be counted, together we can end this madness.

Vote for Change, Demand Change, It is OUR GOD GIVEN RIGHT to use cannabis and all it's compounds in it's natural state for food, fuel, medicine, textiles and more.  

Tue, 02/08/2011 - 4:45pm Permalink
paul bier (not verified)

Well this is another case of extreme government that is

willing to waste human life under false laws. Cant the 

Gov. under stand people relations oh ya ther's

a civil war right now becuase the leader in Egypt has no respect for its people.

Food grade hemp oil is no drup, so they are trumping up charges.

You suck government!

Wed, 02/09/2011 - 8:06am Permalink
bogi666 (not verified)

In reply to by paul bier (not verified)

The Egyptian officials were probably looking for a bribe, then all hell broke out and chaos ensued. His Egyptian lawyer should know how to arrange a bribe, perhaps at the judicial level. As for asking for help form the U. S. Embassy, that's mission impossible on the basis that the USG would be interfering in the internal affairs of another country and certainly  the State Dept., USG would never do such a thing as interfere in the affairs of another country. It may be that the U.S. Embassy worker was looking for a bribe as well. I went into the Soviet Counsel office in San Francisco for a visa and it was strange. I mentioned it to my girl friend who replied "if you think that was strange[the Soviet office] wait until you go to a U.S. Embassy, which I eventually had to do in Kingston,Jamaica." It made the Soviet embassy look like a  welcoming committee to heaven. I wanted a new passport and carry a birth certificate should something happen to my passport. The U.S. Embassy employee just told me she wasn't going to do her job, treated me with derision and refused my request saying my birth certificate was a fraud. Such being the case and being on USG property I suppose I could have been arrested for fraud. Had I presented another birth certificate It would have been a fraud. Anyway, I wrote the Ambassador and eventually got my passport.

Fri, 02/11/2011 - 6:28am Permalink
Maggi Carter (not verified)

In reply to by bogi666 (not verified)

Things probably won't change so fast that bogi666 isn't telling it like it is Egypt.  I was there some 25 years ago and was bumped from a flight.  I cried and tried to appeal my case to the man in charge.  After a frustrating couple of hours, I was able to contact my friends for a late-night trek back across giant Cairo.  They immediately informed me that had I simply offered a sum of cash, I would have been back on the plane, bumping someone else, no doubt...  I was young and only reason occurred to me, which was not the game.  I hope the cross-section of Egyptians who have risen to reclaim their country inspire all levels of society to demand immediate implementation of honest dialogue about real issues.  Mr. Mostafa Soliman is helping the New Egypt by bringing health to his people.  

Sat, 02/12/2011 - 8:22pm Permalink
earl (not verified)

All week I was wondering what will happen to cannabis laws in Egypt if protesters are successful in ousting Mubarak. If Egypt is one of the poorest countries on the planet, they could legalize all cannabis products and turn their economy around. Drug tourism and huge fields of hemp. It would be interesting to know if a majority of protesters are for legalization or not.
Wed, 02/09/2011 - 6:42pm Permalink

I am a 74 yr old  cannabis activist residing in NYC. It is a disgrace anywhere that has unjust antique laws such as this. A law which can condemn a person to death! We are faced with  much more extremely serious problems in this world. I am a grandmother & immediately thought about my family & the fact, this could happen to anyone anywhere. We must stand in solidarity against this situation, Mr. Mostafa Soliman finds himself in. I intend to publicize his story on my web site. Http:// where I have a petition to President Obama for supporters around the world.  I can only offer prayers for Mr. Soliman and hope when a new government is in place Mr. Soliman will be freed & these unjust laws are stricken from the books.

Thu, 02/10/2011 - 11:55am Permalink

I am a 74 yr old cannabis activist residing in NYC. As a grandmother, I think of my family & the fact this could happen to anyone, anywhere in this world. It is amazing to me that attention is given to "victimless crimes" when we are faced in our world with much more extremely serious problems. My heart & prayers go out to Mr. Mostafa Soliman & his family. We must stand in solidarity against these archaic laws that can condemn a person to death. I will publicize Mr. Solimans plight the best I can on my web site & anywhere else I can.

Thu, 02/10/2011 - 12:04pm Permalink
Gerald King (not verified)

My thoughts and prayers go out to Mr. Soliman and his family.  I usually am writing in opposition to most articles on here, but this is most definitely an injustice that needs to be made right.  Even though we cannot tell another Country what to do, just as another Country can't tell us what to do, Hillary and Obama should get involved and do everything they can to get this US Citizen back home.

On the other hand, hemp does need to not be regulated as closely as it is.  It should be on the same par as other health and beauty aids.  The ONLY reason why it is outlawed is because of how it "looks" like marijuana.  As Mr. Soliman stated, all that needs to be done is a simple chemical test to prove that his material is not cannabis.

Thu, 02/10/2011 - 1:23pm Permalink
undrgrndgirl (not verified)

hemp oil? yikes...though i do have to agree that cannabis is cannabis, there needs to be a distinction between psychoactive and industrial...

Thu, 02/10/2011 - 9:36pm Permalink

Testimony from an Egyptian "expert" played a big role in the inclusion of cannabis in international drug treaties back in the early 20th Century. The United States (of course) was firmly in the grip of reefer madness at the time, virtually alone, save for an Egyptian temperance advocate who made outrageous claims about the horrors of hashish. More recently, Egypt experienced a severe hashish shortage beginning about a year ago. Cynics in Egypt have suggested that Mubarak and his cronies were merely driving the price up to better profit from black market interests. Perhaps it was a legitimate effort to create a "drug free" Egypt. Regardless, the shortage was/is real. Too bad for Mubarak, as I imagine a sedated populace would be less likely to risk death and call for his overthrow. I'm thinking of the Euro Cup soccer games wherein the Dutch watered down the beer and loosened up marijuana smoking restrictions. There were no problems with soccer hooligans at those games. I believe Portugal used a similar tactic at one point. I'm not saying a hashish shortage sparked the ongoing uprising. I'm just saying.  

Silly Americans are very ethnocentric, we really should stay out of other countries business. U.S. forces in Afghanistan are having a very hard time finding "drug free" recruits for the Afghani military. Everyone smokes hashish. That's like demanding that U.S. troops abstain from beer drinking. Not only do we make these culturally absurd demands, but we cut down their marijuana fields and destroy their livelihoods growing opium. Imagine if Afghanis cut down tobacco fields in Virginia and razed Napa Valleys vine lands. Think maybe the locals would be upset? 

There was a time not long ago when opium grown in that part of the world was only used by old people for things old people in America take prescription painkillers. Along came the U.S. war on drugs and insane profits, followed by actual war with actual fighting. Now the kids are using the hard stuff to escape reality. If they didn't hate us before, they sure do now. We should have just left well enough alone. 

Thu, 02/10/2011 - 10:11pm Permalink
sicntired (not verified)

This is one of the favourite rendition locals for the Bush Whitehouse.The US used Egypt to torture any "enemies"they wanted to talk.It seems strange that they wouldn't know the difference between hash and hemp oil?Egypt is a source country for hashish,is it not?I seem to remember the US as being a place in which hemp oil is as illegal as hash oil anyway,isn't it?It's all very strange.Mr.Soliman should do his shipping and receiving through Canada.We have no restrictions on hemp oil.Then again,if he sells in the US he might wind up as the second Marc Emery.We have DEA agents running all over our landscape.Grrrr.

Thu, 02/10/2011 - 11:47pm Permalink
Carmen Brown (not verified)

What is the email of the Secretary of State?  I want to write in support of getting him out of Egypt.

Fri, 02/11/2011 - 1:18am Permalink
tempname_45892 (not verified)

On the other hand, hemp does need to not be regulated as closely as it is.  It should be on the same par as other health and beauty aids.  The ONLY reason why it is outlawed is because of how it "looks" like marijuana.  As Mr. Soliman stated, all that needs to be done is a simple chemical test to prove that his material is not cannabis.

Fri, 02/11/2011 - 5:14am Permalink

The existence of the concept of institutional "power" in the human mind is predicated on CREATING enemies or opponents, so the power-based institution can protect you from those enemies.  It is a process within the human mind.  The contradiction is obvious.

The design of the human mind includes the process to resolve the contradiction in a manner than no human mind can escape, including an opponent's mind.  The human mind is a contradiction identification and resolution device until altered or damaged by the perception of holding "power".  Power corrupts.

The denial, or "fooling people out of" each adult's exclusive title, ownership and management of their own bodies, voiding all human rights by prevailing law, is the basis of the American DemocanRepublicrat's "power" over Americans, and voiding of the effect of the US Constitution.

The resolution is amusingly easy.  The American government war on drugs, which makes possible the same war in other countries, can be efficiently ended, defeating the government's inherent opposition which is merely a resolvable contradiction within the human mind.

Amusingly, all the anti-drug war, human rights organizations have been offered the knowledge, but the perception of "power" over their members, the most addicting "drug" of the humans, within the minds of the organization leaders, creates only anger as a response, to defend their "power", and there is no incentive for any individual with the knowledge to benefit those who are only angered by the benefit.

Enjoy your show.


Fri, 02/11/2011 - 2:21pm Permalink
Ronald Gilbert (not verified)

   It is appalling that the state of the World will allow a death sentence to be carried out upon those who use cannabis for food, fuel, fiber, medicine, religious sacrament,  recreational, etc.  

  Governments allow people to be thrown into prisons, their property taken from them and even their children thrown into foster homes. These actions are not Christian acts but rather Anti-Christ!

   It seems as if the whole world is being ran by demented drunks who do not care if a person is ill, let alone doing something to cure the ills that are plaguing them.

   I will no longer buy any product or service from countries who subscribe to injustices such as this and until cannabis is allowed to be produced by American farmers I will not grow food for them, (Besides, I can make more money growing flowers for funerals than I can by growing good wholesome organic food). Think about that and that I am not the only farmer on strike concerning this issue. Grow your own food!!! 


Tue, 02/15/2011 - 6:43pm Permalink

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