The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Updates on the Tora Prison hunger strike

The government has partially met one of the hunger-strikers’ demands, while prison authorities continued cracking down, as other detainees joined the strike in a revolving door fashion.
Hours after the detainees started their strike on Sunday, Mohamed el-Sharqawi was referred to the forensic medical department, where he was examined and x-rayed. On Monday, he was provided with basic medical treatment at the prison hospital.

The hunger strike, activist sources say, could have ended on Monday, with the demand for Sharqawi’s medical aid met. (There were two other demands, but they were secondary, compared to the urgent need for Sharqawi’s medical help, activist sources say.) However, the prison authorities’ harsh response against the strikers, provoked escalation, with seven more detainees joining the strike on Monday, and two more on Tuesday.

The detainees, activist sources continued, complained bitterly from the “inhuman� conditions of the solitary confinement cells.

Ibrahim el-Sahary, a detained journalist and member of the hunger-strike’s organizing committee, described these cells in a letter from prison, “They are 2m x 1.5 cells, with a tiny outlet in the ceiling, making ventilation virtually non-existent. It is summer now, and you can imagine, the cells have turned into saunas, if not ovens, with room temperature above 40 C. Inside, you have no choice but to take all your clothes off because of the heat, even your underwear. The sanitary conditions of the cells are horrible. They are infested with insects, bugs, and what have you. The detainees are decomposing inside.�

According to another statement I received from the prisoners, Kamal Khalil was transferred to the hospital on Monday, and ended his strike following the deterioration of his health. Kamal is suffering from respiratory problems. 3emad Sho3eib and 3adel el-Gazzar also ended their strike on Monday for the same reasons. Gazzar who’s suffering from acute ulcers, was asked to end the strike by his fellow detainees as he started defecating blood. 3emad Sho3eib, a Muslim Brotherhood accountant, also had to end the strike after his health deteriorated, suffering from skin rashes due to the infestation of the cell.

A police force headed by an Interior Ministry’ Special Operations officer with the rank of general, the detainees' statement charged, forcefully moved five of the striking detainees to another prison complex, since there weren’t enough solitary confinement cells in Mahkoum Tora. Ashraf Ibrahim, who resisted his transfer, was reportedly beaten by the general. There detainees are not sure exactly which other prison complext their mates were taken to, but they suspect either Mazra3et Tora or Loman Tora.

Amir Salem, one of the lawyers involved in defending the detainees, sent a statement to the public prosecutor on Wednesday, demanding the release of Mohamed el-Sharqawi, and investigating the interior minister, the head of Cairo Security Directorate, the director of State Security police, the sheriff of Qasr El-Nil Police Station, for their alleged involvement in the torture of pro-democracy detainees.

On another front, Sean McCormack of the US State Department was asked by a reporter, during a press briefing Tuesday, about Sharqawi’s case. McCormack’s response was quite cliché-y: “disturbed,� “concerned,� demanding “further investigation.�—Kinda similar to the same remarks made exactly a year ago, following the sexual assaults on women protestors and reporters, May 25, 2005. The Egyptian general prosecutor has decided to close off the investigation few months ago, and no police officer or NDP-hired thug were prosecuted for the abuses.

Excerpts from the State Dept. press briefing and a list of detainees follow after the jump.


Quotes from the US State Department press briefing on Egypt:

“QUESTION: This is about Egypt. A political activist, Mohammed el-Sharqawi, was arrested and abused by police. Apparently he's still in jail and being denied treatment to a doctor. Do you have anything? Have you taken this up with the --

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, I don't have the details on this, Elise. But certainly, at the very least, those reports are disturbing and merit further investigation. I think you can expect that we will be following up with Egyptian authorities to get to the ground truth. Look, there's a minimum level of -- a minimal level of care that needs to apply to all people in the custody of the Egyptian Government and we would expect that -- we'd expect them to abide by that. And certainly, you know, the reports that we have seen about the treatment of this individual are disturbing and we will be looking into them.

QUESTION: Just to follow on that, this is -- there have been a lot of reports in recent weeks and months about the arrest of protestors and crackdown on political dissent. I mean, what are your discussions with the Egyptian Government about the backsliding of democracy there?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we have both in public and in private talked about our concerns regarding the evolution of Egyptian democracy. They have made some positive steps and they have -- President Mubarak has begun a fundamental reorientation of Egyptian politics. You saw that with multicandidate presidential elections.

But there are also other signs that raise real concern. We talked about the trial of Mr. Nour. We've talked about the treatment of peaceful protestors by Egyptian security officials.
And then we also see other reports such as the one that you just mentioned that raise serious concerns about the progress of freedom and democracy in Egypt and we do raise these things with the Egyptian Government.

Secretary Rice is personally committed to carrying through on the President's freedom agenda, as described in the Second Inaugural. She went to Cairo to talk about the importance of the spread of freedom and democracy and she called upon the Egyptian Government to lead the way. And they have in some regards. In some regards they have not. And I think that we certainly expect that the Egyptian Government would lead the way, as they have in the past, in bringing to the Egyptian people greater freedom and greater democracy.�

Also the latest list of activists on hunger strikes, as provided by them:

First group of hunger-strikers on Sunday

1-Kamal Khalil (Mahkoum Tora)

2-Saher Gad (Mahkoum Tora)

3-Ahmad Abdel Gawad (Mahkoum Tora)

4-Karim Mohamed Redda (Mahkoum Tora)

5-Ihab Mohamed Idriss (Mahkoum Tora)

6-Sameh Mohamed Said (Mahkoum Tora)

Those who joined on Monday

1-Karim el-Sha3er (Loman Tora or Mazra3et Tora)

2-Ashraf Ibrahim (Loman Tora or Mazra3et Tora)

3-Bahaa Saber (Loman Tora or Mazra3et Tora)

4-3emad Sho3eib (Mahkoum Tora)

5-Ahmad Maher (Mahkoum Tora)

6-3adel el-Gazzar (Mahkoum Tora)

7-Nael Abdel Hamid (Mahkoum Tora)

Those who joined on Tuesday

Gamal Abdel Fattah (Loman Tora or Mazra3et Tora)

Sa3d 3abdellah (Loman Tora or Mazra3et Tora)

Those who ended the hunger strike because of health conditions:

1-Kamal Khalil

2-3emad Sho3eib

3-3adel el-Gazzar