Al-Ahram Weekly Online   24 - 30 April 2003
Issue No. 635
Egypt
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Freedom first

Two journalists have been on a hunger strike for a week to protest the unfair detention of their colleague. Mona El-Nahhas spoke to the two men


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Fouad (l) and Makram vowed to continue their hunger strike until their colleague is released
Hisham Fouad, a journalist from the opposition weekly Al-Arabi, the mouthpiece of the Nasserist Party, and Ayman Makram, from the daily economic Al-Alam Al-Yom, staged a hunger strike on 17 April at the Press Syndicate headquarters to protest the arrest of their colleague Ibrahim El-Sahari, a journalist from Al-Alam Al-Yom. On Monday, Fouad and Makram told Al- Ahram Weekly that their hunger strike will continue until El-Sahari is released, despite the phone threats they have received.

The two hunger strikers looked pale and exhausted. Syndicate doctors who checked the two men said said their health was deteriorating and that their blood sugar levels and blood pressure were dangerously low.

El-Sahari, a leftist activist, was arrested on 14 April, two days after he participated in a sit-in strike staged at the Press Syndicate headquarters to condemn the US-British occupation of Iraq. During the sit-in, El-Sahari allegedly shouted anti-regime slogans.

This was El-Sahari's second time to be arrested. On 15 February, El-Sahari was detained for 11 days for writing a book entitled, Iraq, another war for sovereignty and oil, in which he criticised the lack of democracy in Egypt and revealed alleged secret Arab deals conducted with the US before its war against Iraq. Al-Ahram Weekly was told by El-Sahari's wife, Hala Dahroug, that he was released on 26 February after being subjected to brutal torture.

Dahroug said security forces knocked at their door at dawn on 14 April and took her husband to an unknown location without showing a warrant and without mentioning specific charges. "Even if Ibrahim got released, I will not be satisfied. I am certain that he will be detained again. I just want to know his charge. Is it a crime to express political views freely? Is it his fault that he believed we live in a free and democratic country?" she said.

Just before a press conference held on Monday at the syndicate headquarters, Chairman of the Press Syndicate Ibrahim Nafie told the hunger strikers that El-Sahari was now being detained at Tora prison. Asked about the possibility of visiting him, Nafie said there would be no need to meet El-Sahari, "as the issue will be settled soon and the journalist will be released within 36 hours", meaning Wednesday.

The strikers said they were informed by syndicate officials that El-Sahari's release will require the direct intervention of President Hosni Mubarak and that the case was now out of the Interior Minister's hands.

If security bodies do not release El- Sahari on Wednesday, more journalists are expected to join the hunger strike, according to Fouad and Makram.

Immediately following Monday's press conference, a delegation from the press syndicate and members of the Bar Association's freedom committee headed to the office of Attorney General Maher Abdel-Wahed and asked him to send a representative from his bureau to the press syndicate to hear the strikers' points of view.

Raga'i El-Merghani, deputy chairman of the Press Syndicate, told the assembled journalists during the press conference that the syndicate had filed two complaints with the attorney general two days after El-Sahari's arrest. "We asked to be told the whereabouts of the detainee and the reasons for his detention," he said.

El-Merghani believes the strikers' actions reflect their worry that such detentions of journalists without charges or due process may recur. Fouad and Makram said they were protesting against the illegal and inhumane practices against journalists in general. "So, our battle will not end with the release of El-Sahari. What we want is a fair trial of all those responsible for torturing journalists with the aim of silencing their voices."

El-Sahari was not the only journalist arrested and allegedly tortured during the last two months. On 21 March, the second day of the US-led war against Iraq, and during the mass demonstration at Al-Tahrir Square, security forces beat three journalists, Karem Mahmoud, Mohamed Mounir and Hamdin Sabahi -- who is also a member of parliament and the press syndicate's council. Soon after participating in the demonstration, Sabahi was arrested despite his parliamentary immunity. He was released 15 days later.

On 30 March, a number of journalists who went to Sayeda Aisha Square to cover demonstrations were physically attacked and their cameras confiscated.

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