Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Egypt: Number of hunger strikers highest since Sadat’s presidency

Prominent Egyptian activist Alaa Abdel Fattah stands behind bars as he is tried at the court in Cairo on August 6, 2014. (Photo: AFP-Mohammed al-Shahed)

Published Wednesday, August 27, 2014
Egyptian activists refuse to back down from the hunger strike that they embarked on to protest their arrest and the conditions they are facing in their detention. The list of participants grows ever longer, and it includes activists from different political affiliations.
Cairo – “I will not play the role they have chosen for me.” That is how political activist Alaa Abdel Fattah announced his hunger strike inside Tora Prison. Abdel Fattah has been a political prisoner under different regimes, from ousted President Hosni Mubarak to the current one. He is serving a 15-year sentence for demonstrating in front of the Shura Council against the protest law passed by interim President Adly Mansour on November 24, 2013. Alaa joins his comrades, many of whom face the same fate as his for violating the protest law, in a struggle that has been dubbed “the battle of empty stomachs” in opposition to the regime’s use of preventive detention and litigation procedures.
Alaa decided to go on a hunger strike on August 18 after visiting his father, human rights lawyer Ahmed Seif el-Islam Hamad, who underwent heart surgery and was lying in the intensive care unit at the hospital. The family of the Egyptian activist had filed several requests with the public prosecutor to allow Alaa and his sister Sanaa, who is also imprisoned on charges of participating in a march against the protest law in front of the Ittihadiya presidential palace in a case known in the media as the Ittihadiya march, to visit their father.
The family said in a statement on the evening of the visit:
“Alaa is in prison for the third time since the outbreak of the January 25 Revolution and every time the authorities – whoever they are – come up with a new fake charge. Finally, they did something he could not bear, they prevented him from standing by his father’s side and supporting him when he went in for an open heart surgery. They prevented him from visiting his father until he lost consciousness.”

The latest prisoner to join the list of hunger strikers recently was political activist Hamada Nouba, who is charged in the same case as Alaa. Political and human rights activist Mahienour al-Masry, who is serving a six-month sentence in al-Abadiya Prison in the city of Damanhour for violating the protest law, had already joined the hunger strikers declaring her solidarity with her comrades in their campaign for which they chose the slogan “Gibna Ekhirna (We brought our own demise),” which turned into a hashtag that has proliferated Facebook and Twitter.
Pages on social networking sites that support Mahienour announced that she “ended her hunger strike because other women prisoners – most of them are older – went on a hunger strike in solidarity with her.” They added, “She did it out of concern for their health but she confirms her full solidarity with the hunger strikers in prisons.”
Iman Mansour who is a member of the Front to Defend Alexandria’s Protesters said that Mahienour tried to convince the women prisoners not to go on a hunger strike but they refused and insisted on going ahead with it in solidarity with her.
While Alaa and his comrades have been on a hunger strike for no more than 10 days, Mohammed Soltan, son of Muslim Brotherhood leader Salah Soltan, who is accused in the Rabaa al-Adawiyya Operations Room case, has been on a hunger strike for 223 days. He is demanding that he be tried in court and that the charges against him be declared openly. Furthermore, Soltan is protesting his continued detention because, according to him, he was arrested in order to force his father to turn himself in to the authorities as they failed to arrest him. Mohammed has been imprisoned now for about a year and the prosecution neither charged him with anything nor put him on trial.
The second longest hunger strike is being undertaken by the young doctor Ibrahim al-Yamani, detained since August 14, 2013 against the backdrop of the second incident at al-Fateh Mosque between supporters of Mohammed Mursi and Egyptian security forces , and like others he is yet to be tried. Today, Wednesday, is his 34th day on hunger strike as a participant in the “battle of empty stomachs” for the second time. His first hunger strike lasted 89 days. He was transferred to Tora Prison after the court judges stepped down to avoid embarrassment.
The list includes many more hunger strikers inside Egyptian prisons besides these activists. The number of political prisoners on hunger strike in Egyptian prisons is the highest it has been since the presidency of Anwar al-Sadat.
Mahmoud Bilal, a human rights activist in the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights and the hunger strikers’ lawyer told Al-Akhbar that the number of hunger strikers inside Egyptian prisons keeps growing. They are demanding freedom as they have been accused of charges that have no basis in reality and that are illegal.
“We are facing a political issue that has nothing to do with the law. After trying every legitimate means possible we are left with no option but to go on a hunger strike and to escalate as a last resort,” the activist added.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.
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