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Top prison official denies detainees on hunger strike in Egypt's jails

Top prison official claims political prisoners are not on hunger strike despite confirmation to the contrary by their families and an official human rights body

Ahram Online, Tuesday 9 Sep 2014
A family member of a detained activist on hunger strike
A family member of a detained activist on hunger strike (L), Political Activist Zizo Abdo (C),novelist Laila Soueif (R) (Photo: Hend Nafea)
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Egypt's top-ranking prison official has denied any prisoners or activists are staging a hunger strike in Egypt's jails, despite families of the detainees an official body and rights activists confirming otherwise.

In comments to Aswat Masriya, the head of Egypt's prison investigations department, Mohamed Ali Hussein, disputed reports about an ongoing hunger strike organised by dozens of prominent activists and prisoners to protest their detention and a controversial protest law.

"They are all eating and drinking normally everyday… They should have died if they were on strike," he said when specifically asked about Alaa Abdel-Fattah and Ahmed Douma, both jailed icons of the 2011 uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak, who began a hunger strike late in August.

Egypt's National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) released a report last week about its visit to several hunger-striking prisoners in which it called for conducting medical examinations on two of the striking activists, Ahmed Douma and Mohamed Abdel-Rahman "Nouby," due to their failing health. It also called for looking at demands to release those held without trial.

An NCHR committee has been meeting with seven other activists, who began on Sunday an open-ended sit-in and hunger strike against the protest law and the detention of fellow activists at the council's headquarters in central Cairo, to discuss efforts to amend the statute, the council said on Monday.

Freedom for the Brave, a campaign that calls for the release of political prisoners, said on Monday that around 60 prisoners had joined the hunger strike to date, with some 32 others joining the drive outside jail.

Malek Adly, of the Cairo-based Arabic Network For Human Rights Information, meanwhile, said 59 prisoners have been officially registered as being on hunger strike, either through "notification with the public prosecutor, reports with the prison authority and police stations, or by telegraphs."

"It's often a disaster that a prisoner goes on hunger strike, which requires proper documentation and the summoning of the prison director," Adly told Ahram Online, dismissing the probability of officials not being notified of the strike. "Protecting prisoners, alive, in jails is sacred to [security] apparatuses around the world," he said.

Earlier this week, families of detained and imprisoned activists vowed in a press conference that they would gradually join the hunger strike in solidarity.

Since the ouster of president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013, authorities have mounted a harsh crackdown on Islamists, in which thousands have been jailed and hundreds killed or sentenced to death in hurried mass trials.

The crackdown also extended to non-Islamist youth activists after the protest law was passed late last year, heightening fears for the future of political dissent in Egypt.  

In June, authorities released a journalist from the Qatar-based Al Jazeera Arabic channel on medical grounds after he had been on hunger strike for over four months to protest his detention without charge.

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