3 Egyptian detainees go on hunger strike

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Three Egyptian detainees have started a hunger strike to protest their arbitrary detention. It indicates their despair at securing justice through legal means, so they resort to the only weapon they have, namely hunger, to pressure the regime to release them.

We want freedom

Among the detainees who announced the hunger strike was dentist Walid Shawky, a former leader of the April 6 Youth Movement, a popular democratic movement that contributed to the January 25, 2011, revolution that toppled ousted dictator Mohamed Hosni Mubarak. After the 2013 military coup and the deterioration of the country’s conditions, Shawky retired from public work and decided to focus on his work and his family, but the repressive Sisi regime refused to forgive him for his role in public work during the years of the revolution.

On October 14, 2018, National Security forces arrested Walid without legal basis, from his private clinic in the Sayeda Zeinab neighbourhood in Cairo, after which he was subjected to enforced disappearance for six days, before he appeared before the Supreme State Security Prosecution. He was charged with “belonging to a group that was established violating the provisions of the law, publishing false news and statements, and misusing social media platforms.”

Walid Shawqi remained imprisoned in this case until September 3, 2020, before the court issued a decision to release him, but the National Security refused to implement this decision, and Walid was forcibly disappeared again for a period of more than a month, specifically until October 6, 2020, before appearing before the Supreme State Security Prosecution. Once again, he was accused in a new case with the same charges as the previous one, with the addition of the charge of “participating in a gathering,” even though he was at that time being held in one of the National Security detention facilities in Dakahlia Governorate. For three years and four months, Shawky was held in the notorious prisons of the Sisi regime, until he lost hope that justice would take its course and he would be released, so he decided to engage in a hunger strike.

The second of the detainees who announced the start of a hunger strike is the activist Abdel Rahman Tarek, known as Mocha, a former member of the April 6 Youth movement, whose case is a blatant example of the lack of justice in Egypt. Mocha was arrested for the first time in August 2013, immediately after the military coup, in connection with his participation in the No to Military Trials of Civilians demonstration. He was sentenced to three years in prison and three years of police supervision for participating in an unauthorised demonstration.

In July 2019, Abdel Rahman posted on Facebook that he had been sexually and verbally assaulted by a policeman, while he was on probation at Qasr El-Nil Police Department and was also threatened with new charges if this assault was revealed. Barely two months passed before Mocha was arrested while on police probation, and he was referred to the Supreme State Security Prosecution, which charged him with a number of accusations including “joining a terrorist group and spreading false news.”

Tariq remained imprisoned for a year and a half, before the court issued a decision in March 2020 to release him and replace pretrial detention with precautionary measures, but as usual, the National Security refused to implement the decision and referred the young man to a new case, with the same accusations as before.

Six months later, specifically in September 2020, Mocha again obtained a judicial decision to release him, but again, the National Security did not implement this decision, and the young man was forcibly hidden for two months in one of his basements, had new charges brought against him, and is still imprisoned today. This is not the first time Tariq has gone on hunger strike to protest his imprisonment. Rather, he had previously entered a strike that lasted for more than 52 days in early 2021, and then had to break it after his health deteriorated dramatically and he almost lost his life. During the previous months, Mocha’s psychological condition deteriorated sharply, due to the inhumane conditions of his solitary confinement, and he attempted suicide, but was rescued at the last moment.

The third striker, the detainee Ahmed Maher, known as “Rego,” a former member of the Strong Egypt Party and the campaign for the candidacy of former Chief of Staff Sami Anan for the presidency, was arrested by National Security in May 2020 on several well-known charges including “joining a terrorist group and spreading false news.” As usual, the Criminal Court ordered Rego’s release in connection with the case in October 2020, but National Security had a different opinion, and included Rego in a new case with the same previous accusations. With Rigo nearing completion of his second year in prison he decided to go on a hunger strike.

Does it work?

Hunger strikes are the last weapon for detainees to pressure the regime for their release. This weapon has had positive results in the past, and there are many examples of this. In June 2014, the Egyptian regime released Al Jazeera correspondent Abdullah Al-Shami for health reasons, after he went on a hunger strike for 130 days in protest of his arrest, and almost died of starvation. In May 2015, the regime released the detainee Muhammad Soltan, who holds American citizenship, after he went on a hunger strike for 450 days, and after American pressure to release him.

However, more recently hunger strikes are no longer effective, and the Egyptian authorities are not responding to it, perhaps due to the stability of the regime’s situation and its feeling that there are no consequences for the human rights violations that it practices. Mustafa Kassem, an American of Egyptian origin, died in prison in January 2020, after entering a full hunger and drink strike to protest his imprisonment, despite American pressure to release him. Mocha previously went on hunger strike for more than 50 days in protest of his imprisonment, without any result, until he had to break his strike because it threatened his life, and he is still imprisoned until now.