Six activists being retried for breaching Egypt's protest law have started an open-ended sit-in and hunger strike inside the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) in downtown Cairo.
The six men were among 25 defendants sentenced on 11 June to 15 years in jail for breaking a controversial law that bans protests without police authorisation, the toughest sentences against pro-democracy activists since the 2011 uprising. They were released pending a probe into the case and are now facing a retrial due to the sentences being handed out in absentia.
Only three of the 25 defendants, including prominent activist and blogger Alaa Abdel-Fattah--an icon of the 2011 revolt that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak--have been detained in the case.
The men began their action at the NCHR to protest against "indiscriminate arrests" and "politically motivated sentences," Mamdouh Gamal, one of the activists, told Al-Ahram Arabic news website.
The other five hunger strikers are: Mohamed Hossam, Yahia Abdel-Shafey, Peter Galal, Mostafa Yousry and Abdulla Zaky.
They plan to go on with their hunger strike until the controversial protest law is rescinded and all people jailed for exercising their freedom of expression are released, Gamal said.
A growing number of prisoners have joined a hunger strike over the past weeks to protest their detention, with an almost equivalent number of activists and family members joining the strike outside prison.
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.
Mamdouh said he and his fellow colleagues do not fear arrest. "With the injustice I see, nothing matters any longer… When I am 20 and get a 15-year sentence, what else should I wait for?"
The next hearing of their retrial is due on Wednesday.
Freedom for the Brave, a campaign that calls for the release of political prisoners, said on Monday that almost 60 prisoners have joined the hunger strike to date, with some 32 others joining the drive outside jail.
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.