Families of hunger striking detainees slam national rights council

The families of two detainees on hunger strike condemned the National Council for Human Rights, accusing it of dragging its feet in dealing with their cases in a press conference on Monday.

Anger was palpable at the press conference among families and friends of detainees Abdullah al-Shamy and Mohamed Soltan, both over 120 days into hunger strikes to protest their detention.

Both detainees’ families said the National Council for Human Rights is not fulfilling its role, and Soltan’s family said the Interior Ministry is fully responsible for their lives.

Opening remarks were given by activist and professor Laila Soueif and founder of the Nadeem Center for the Rehabilitation of Tortured Victims Aida Seif al-Dawla, who started a hunger strike themselves last week in solidarity with both detainees and Shamy’s wife Gehad Khaled, who has been on hunger strike for over 40 days herself.

The activists started their hunger strike after sending a statement to the NCHR, signed by over 150 public figures, requesting a visit to Shamy and Soltan with an independent doctor to assess their conditions. The statement also called for their immediate release and transfer to hospital for treatment.

Soueif and Seif al-Dawla said they decided to go on hunger strike after they didn’t receive a response from the NCHR for four days.

Shamy, who works for the Qatari-based Al Jazeera network, was arrested on August 14 during the dispersal of the Rabea pro-Morsi sit in. His detention has been extended several times since and he has never faced trial.

He declared his hunger strike on January 21, demanding trial or release.

Shamy’s bother Mosaab said that the prison’s administration ignored his brother’s hunger strike for two months, denying it completely until it became difficult to ignore in light of the circulation of photos showing his dramatic weight loss. “Instead of transferring him to a hospital, the prison’s administration moved him to solitary confinement,” he said.

The journalist has been held in solitary confinement for the past few weeks in Aqrab (Scorpion) maximum-security sector in Tora prison.

Mosaab said the last time he visited his brother was on May 19, when Shamy told him that prison guards were attempting to force-feed him and told him he was being held in solitary confinement as a punitive measure for his hunger strike.

Two days after the visit, photos circulated on social media showing Shamy eating, prompting his family to issue a statement saying that their son was forced to eat.

Soltan, son of Muslim Brotherhood leader Salah Soltan, is one of 51 defendants on trial in the “Rabea operations room” case, which includes the group’s Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie.

In his court session earlier last month, Soltan was wheeled into court as he read a letter recounting his suffering since his arrest. He said that the police came to his house looking for his father on August 27, 2013, but arrested him and his friends instead when they didn’t find him.

Soltan said he left his job in the US and moved to Egypt in March 2013 to look after his mother who has cancer. He said he has been in Egypt for a year and two months, nine months of which he has spent in jail.

Sara Mohamed al-Kheit, a member of Soltan’s family, recounted his arrest, adding that he has been subjected to beatings, especially on his already injured shoulder, which led to worse injuries. Kheit said a doctor had been sent to operate on him inside the prison cell without anaesthetics.

She said Soltan is in a critical condition given his medical record and that he is transferred to the prison’s hospital almost on a weekly basis, especially since he started his hunger strike on January 26.

Soltan’s family said his whereabouts are currently unknown. They said they went to visit him last Saturday only to be told he’d been transferred to the Manial Hospital after suffering a stroke. The family later went to the hospital but did not find him.

Kamal Abbas, a member of the NCHR, attended the conference in solidarity with the detainees to defend the council.

“The current law regulating the council stipulates that it gets permits from the general prosecutor for prison visits as well as from the Interior Ministry,” he said, “We rejected this law and called on then Prime Minister Hazem al-Beblawi to amend it but to no avail.”

He said that the general prosecutor did in fact issue a permit for Shamy’s and Soltan’s visit but that the Interior Ministry is impeding the process.

“We issued a statement condemning the Interior Ministry’s reluctance to issue a permit and we are keen on making these visits,” he said.

“If both detainees die, place this statement on their graves,” activist Mona Seif interrupted and said.

Khaled al-Balshy, a member of the Journalists Syndicate board, told Mada Masr that the syndicate has interfered in Shamy’s, as well as other journalists’ cases.

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