Friday,21 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1195, (1-7 May 2014)
Friday,21 September, 2018
Issue 1195, (1-7 May 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Mass refusal

Thousands of prisoners staged a hunger strike to protest against their ill treatment behind bars. Ahmed Morsy reports

Al-Ahram Weekly

“The violations and ill treatment of prisoners inside Egyptian prisons are getting worse. We haven’t seen this level of abuse for 35 years,” says lawyer Gamal Eid, director of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information. What is more catastrophic, he adds, is that such transgressions are being done with tacit public consent.

To protest the deteriorating conditions the Revolutionary Path Front called upon detained activists in 11 prisons to begin a hunger strike on 30 April.

“The political pressure being exerted on the state to overturn the protest law will now be reinforced with a hunger strike movement to protest the abuse prisoners receive,” says Revolutionary Path Front member Mohamed Kamal.

On Saturday an estimated 5,000 protestors marched to the presidential palace, chanting against the controversial protest law and demanding the release of detainees. Non-Islamist opposition groups, including the Revolutionary Front Path, had called for the demonstration which started at the Saray Al-Kobba metro station, a few kilometres away from the Ittihadiya Presidential Palace.

Human rights lawyer and 2012 presidential candidate Khaled Ali, spokesman of the liberal Dostour Party Khaled Dawoud, former MP Ziad Al-Eleimi, and leading activists Wael Khalil, Alaa Abdel-Fattah and Haitham Mohamedain were among the participants.

The peaceful, mainly young crowd chanted anti-military and anti-police slogans alongside their demands for the release of political detainees.

“Our aims are to overturn the protest law and press for the release of prisoners detained under it,” said Kamal.

The Revolutionary Front, an anti-military and anti-Brotherhood grouping, includes leading members of 6 April Movement, the 6 April Democratic Front, the Revolutionary Socialists and the Justice and Freedom Youth Movement.

“The hunger strike has already begun in Abu Zaabal and Wadi Al-Natroun prison and is going to spread to include the rest of  the prisons — Borg Al-Arab, Al-Hadra, Damanhur, Abu Zaabal, Tora, Gamasa, Al-Aqrab, Al-Fayoum, Assiut and the New Valley — by the beginning of May,” announced Kamal.

Official figures of those arrested since the toppling of Mohamed Morsi on 3 July have not been released. However according to a recent report by the Associated Press, 16,000 people have been jailed in the last eight months in Egypt’s biggest round-up in two decades. Wiki Thawra, a website dedicated to documenting the Egyptian revolution, estimates that 21,317 have been arrested nationwide since July. The pro-Morsi National Alliance for the Defence of Legitimacy puts the figure of political detainees at 22,000.

“Levels of indiscriminate arrests are unprecedented,” lawyer Islam Khalifa, a human rights activist involved in cases of non-Brotherhood detainees, told Al-Ahram Weekly. “They are being beaten and tortured, and then held until the signs of ill-treatment face before being sent for medical examinations.”

The flood of arrests has swamped the prison and legal systems. Many detainees are held for months in police-station lockups or temporary holding areas such as police training camps because the prisons are so overcrowded, say NGOs.

“Prisoners arrested under the protest law, who face misdemeanour charges, are sometimes held in criminal lockups and even in solitary confinement,” says Khalifa.

The interim government denies any infringement of prisoners’ rights and insists all those arrested will face criminal trials. It also denies it is any political detainees.

Ahmed Seif Al-Islam, director of Hisham Mubarak Law Centre, says that the level of  indiscriminate arrests and torture, and the perfunctory sentencing of hundreds to death “resemble the worst circumstances of the British occupation of Egypt”.

 “These violations are retaliatory actions. We are against one of the worst regimes Egypt has witnessed.”

 “Any opposing move or activity is at the right path,” said Seif Al-Islam, commenting on the hunger strike

Eid warns that “without good media coverage of the strike and without clarifying its reasons to the public the strike won’t have any influence”. 

Meanwhile, the Freedom for the Detainees in Egyptian Prisons movement has announced that 16,000 Brotherhood prisoners started a hunger strike yesterday to protest their mistreatment. The movement issued a statement last Friday saying the aim of the strike was to pressure the regime to stop torturing prisoners and release the innocent. 

The statement added that the prisoners include doctors, engineers, professors, students, women and juveniles. “They have other means as well to pressure the regime to end human rights violations,” said movement spokesperson Haitham Abu Khalil, adding that there are some 30,000 detainees, including children being illegally held in prisons. In a statement issued the same day the Freedom and Justice Party said its detained members would join the hunger strike.

April 6 Movement political bureau member Mohamed Mustafa says the group’s call for a hunger strike by political detainees remains an open invitation. “We have not coordinated with the Brotherhood or any other movement to take part in the strike but each has the right to protest their sufferings and join.”

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