Two hundred and ten Ultras White Knights members started a hunger strike on Thursday, one day after a military court renewed their detention for one month. They have subsequently faced abuses from prison security guards, lawyer Mohamed Hafez told Mada Masr.
The detained football fans are being held in Alexandria’s Hadra Prison among other Ultras members. Security guards have beaten them and cut their hair after they refused to eat food provided by the prison or their families, according to Hafez. The lawyer told Mada Masr that Hadra’s security guards have threatened to transfer the detainees, some of whom have sustained injuries, to cells where the rest of prisoners are being held.
The Alexandria Public Prosecution referred 236 Zamalek fans to military prosecution in July after they were arrested from the area around Borg al-Arab Stadium following a match. They are accused of belonging to and leading an illegal organization, using terrorism to achieve this organization’s targets, possessing fireworks and attacking police personnel, among other charges.
Hafez told Mada Masr that he is currently checking whether 26 other fans, who are involved in the same case and are held inside the Alexandria Security Directorate, are participating in the hunger strike.
“Their detention has been ongoing for 120 days, although they paid for all the facilities they were accused of destroying at Borg al-Arab Stadium, and despite the release of other football fans on similar charges, including the fans of the Tunisian club Sportif Sfaxien,” Hafez said.
Clashes between families of the detained fans and police forces broke out on Wednesday night following the court’s decision to extend their detention, according to Hafez, who said the atmosphere became tense after the mother of one of the detainees fainted. In the furor, a police officer assaulted two women but was able to flee the scene with the help of plainclothes officers, the lawyer added.
Alexandria’s Public Prosecution referred the case to the military prosecution on the basis that the stadium is owned by the Armed Forces. Egypt’s military judiciary law allows civilians to be tried before military courts if they have committed crimes at institutions operated by the Armed Forces.
Due to repeated clashes between police and football fans, the Egyptian Football Union decided to hold the national league and all local tournaments without fan attendance. The Confederation of African Football, however, has obliged Egypt to allow fans to attend all games played as part of the African Cup of Nations. Consequently, all matches played as part of any African tournament have come to be held at the military’s Borg al-Arab Stadium. Over the last couple of years, this has led to an increasing number of confrontations that often led to arrests.
On Sunday, police arrested scores of Ultras Ahlawy from around Borg al-Arab Stadium as they were on their way to attend a match between Egypt’s Al-Ahly and a Tunisian team. Around 200 fans were released soon after, while 28 were referred to the Amreya Prosecution, only to be released later on Sunday. At the time, Hafez told Mada Masr that fans were arrested and charged for wearing T-shirts with slogans like “Glory to the martyrs,” possessing fake tickets and entering the stadium without tickets.
On Monday, Hafez said that one of those still detained is being charged for carrying laser pens, while four others are charged with possessing fake tickets in two separate cases.
Alongside the military judiciary law, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi issued a law in October 2014 extending the Armed Forces authority to protect public institutions and buildings, including electricity stations, gas pipelines, railways, roads and “any other public facilities and institutions.” Rights groups have criticized the law, which they argue expands the jurisdiction of Egypt’s military courts.
Since the January 25 revolution authorities have increasingly referred civilians to military trial. The crackdown on Ultras, who have been involved in numerous clashes with security forces for their role in the revolution, has also increased since 2011.