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More inmates join hunger strike against abuses at Aqrab Prison

Several inmates at Cairo’s maximum-security Aqrab Prison have joined an open hunger strike demanding that prison officials follow the rule of law and halt ongoing abuses, said a statement issued by their families on Monday.

Inmates including prominent Muslim Brotherhood spokesperson Gehad al-Haddad, his father Essam al-Haddad and Islamist leader Essam Sultan joined the protest action after nine journalists incarcerated at the prison began a hunger strike last Thursday. Two of the journalists, Hesham Gaafar and Hossam al-Sayed, were transferred to a prison hospital on Sunday. The authorities have not released information regarding their condition.

Under the slogan “I am human,” the prisoners have set forth four main demands including weekly hour-long family visits with no glass barrier, improving the quality and quantity of food and water to “fit human consumption,” allowing packages into the prison and allowing inmates outside on a daily basis, all of which are rights guaranteed by the prisons law.

There has been a recent resurgence in reports of inhumane conditions at the notorious facility, which is part of the Tora Prison complex.

In December, the state-run National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) paid a number of visits to Aqrab following heightened media scrutiny of alleged human rights abuses. In response, prison authorities briefly relaxed control over visitation rights and allowed inmates to receive food and clothing, but families say the situation took a turn for the worse shortly thereafter.

The Monday statement detailed what the families called “violations and insults” committed against Aqrab inmates over the past two weeks.

Visitations were forbidden from January 24 until February 10, when only 20­­­­-30 people were finally allowed to enter the facility. This translates to “around 180 visits a week to a prison of over 1,000 prisoners,” the statement claimed.

There were also multiple incidents of police officers physically assaulting women who were trying to visit incarcerated family members, according to the statement.

The families have filed complaints about the deteriorating conditions at Aqrab with the NCHR and the prosecutor general.

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