Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1286, (10 - 16 March 2016)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1286, (10 - 16 March 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Protest suspended

Journalists have suspended their sit-in after the Ministry of Interior met some of their demands, reports Reem Leila

Al-Ahram Weekly

On 5 March, journalists suspended their sit-in, which began last week at the Press Syndicate headquarters in protest against the conditions of imprisoned journalists in Al-Aqrab Prison.

A Ministry of Interior statement delivered to the Press Syndicate said Hesham Gaafar, a journalist and researcher serving a sentence in Al-Aqrab, will undergo surgery next week and is taking essential medical tests before the operation. Gaafar had gone on hunger strike to protest against the “inhuman conditions” of their detention.

Youssef Shaaban, another jailed journalist, is currently undergoing examinations at a public hospital as a prerequisite for medical treatment.

On 29 February a group from the Press Syndicate Council, together with relatives of the detained journalists, staged a sit-in at the syndicate headquarters. Among the journalists was Khaled Al-Balshi, head of the syndicate’s Freedoms Committee.

According to Al-Balshi, some imprisoned journalists were allowed to meet with their families as they had requested, while others met with security officials to complain about the poor conditions inside their cells.

“It is a good sign that security officials responded to our demands. But this is not a solution. We need a radical solution for imprisoned journalists. Every time something happens to prisoners we have to protest so that security officials respond,” said Al-Balshi.

Other journalists, including Ibrahim Al-Darawi, were transferred from Mazraet Tora Prison to Leyman Tora Prison upon their request due to what was described as abysmal conditions. Al-Balshi said there are more than 30 journalists either imprisoned or detained now waiting to stand trial on various charges.

“I hope the authorities concerned will speed up the approval of the press law which forbids the imprisonment of journalists,” said Al-Balshi.

Al-Balshi has repeatedly denied that journalists were arrested due to their work. “They were detained, according to security claims, due to political reasons and that they posed a threat to the country’s national security,” Al-Balshi said.

Meanwhile, authorities have denied what rights activists describe as systematic violations against inmates. “We have not decided whether to resume the sit-in. We hope the situation of our imprisoned colleagues will improve,” Al-Balshi said. “We are now negotiating a pardon for them, and we hope President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi will respond to our demands.”

Recently, 16 local NGOs, including the state-affiliated National Council for Human Rights (NCHR), demanded the establishment of an independent investigating team to examine Al-Aqrab prisoners.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a comprehensive report on torture and poor conditions inside the prison, using quotes from several prisoners. One said detainees were routinely subjected to severe beatings with sticks and electrical shocks to various parts of the body, including genitals.

HRW also reported that a number of detainees were subjected to sexual harassment and assault, even rape, by police officers and conscripts. One detainee told an HRW representative: “A number of us were forced to bend down on four limbs just like animals and a stick was inserted in the anus as a new form of humiliation and persecution.”

The report said a large number of those held in prison suffer from chronic illnesses that require immediate surgery and medical attention. However, prison authorities refuse to allow these operations to be carried out.

One detainee reportedly needed an urgent heart catheterisation but his request was denied, endangering the inmate’s life.

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