At least 223 Egyptian detainees have declared hunger strikes throughout October, protesting against prolonged pretrial detention periods and mistreatment, one of whom died on Saturday after falling into a diabetic coma.
Gamal Sorour died hours after being taken to the Aswan University Hospital lawyer Ahmed Rizk told Mada Masr. He and eight other Nubian detainees declared they were starting a hunger strike on October 31, after an Aswan court renewed their detention for an additional 15 days. Four other detainees facing the same charges joined the strike on Friday, according to Rizk.
The protesters were arrested during a singing march in Aswan on September 3, demanding the Nubian right to return to their ancestral lands, from which they have expelled on several occasions, starting with the building of the Aswan Dam in the 1930s.
Detained journalist Hesham Gaafar also declared a hunger strike on October 26 after his detention was renewed for another 45 days, despite the fact the period of his pretrial detention has already exceeded the maximum two year period stipulated in Article 142 of the Penal Code.
Gaafar was arrested in October 2015, following a raid on the offices of the Mada Institution for Media Development, of which he is CEO. He faces charges of international bribery and joining an outlawed group.
Gaafar’s family has reported a deterioration in his health during his incarceration in Aqrab Prison, and claimed that prison authorities have derived him of critically needed medical care.
October 26 also saw 210 Zamalek football team fans also declare a hunger strike, after a military court renewed their detention for another month.
A total of 236 ultras were arrested on July 9 following an African League match, after which they were referred to the military prosecution on charges of belonging to and leading an illegal organization, using terrorism to achieve this organization’s targets, possessing fireworks and attacking police personnel, among others. Two hundred and ten of the detainees are being held in Hadra Prison, while the remaining 26 are remanded in the Alexandria Security Directorate.
After the football fans declared their hunger strike, lawyer Mohamed Hafez said that security forces assaulted them, shaved their heads and threatened them to move them to cells with violent offenders if they did not agree to break their strike.
Families of the detainees protested in front of the state television building in Cairo on Wednesday, before moving the protest to the Defense Ministry, after which an official received their request for the football fans to be released.
Protesting against the mistreatment of prisoners in the Aqrab and Tora prisons, Essam Sultan, the vice president of the Wasat Party, announced he would go on a hunger strike on during an October 17 session in the Rabea dispersal case. He requested that a committee from the United Nations investigate his allegations.
Sultan was arrested in July 2013 and is facing charges in several cases, including the Rabea dispersal case and for insulting the judiciary. His hunger strike lasted for two weeks.
A similar wave of hunger strikes occurred in 2014 after detained activist Alaa Abdel Fattah declared a hunger strike in August of that year, demanding his release to be with his father, rights lawyer Ahmed Seif, who had entered a coma and passed away shortly after.
Several detained activists joined the hunger strike in support of Abdel Fattah, after which a campaign under the slogan “We Are Fed Up” was organized, which saw dozens of other detainees join the protest.
While the number of detainees currently going on hunger strike is increasing, there is no centralized campaign or movement. Detainees are initiating the protests individually as a reaction to the practice of extended pretrial and mistreatment at the hands of prison authorities.
Aida Seif al-Dawla, one of the founders of Al-Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, told Mada Masr that widespread hunger strikes are protesting the normalization of mass arrests and the violation of prisoners rights.
“When pretrial detention continues for prolonged periods, and deaths in prisons occur regularly due to medical negligence, then those entering hunger strikes have nothing to lose,” she added.
In a report published in April of this year, the National Council for Human Rights demanded that the maximum duration imposed on pretrial detention be shortened, arguing that prolonged pretrial detention is causing prisons and detention areas to surpass their capacities by up to 300 percent.
Council member George Ishaq says that he has sent reports detailing the most recent wave of hunger strikes to the council of the state-appointed body, and reaffirmed the importance of the Public Prosecution investigating them in order to preserve the lives of detainees. Ishaq’s comments came hours before the Sorour’s death.
*Note: This piece has been edited since it was originally published.