Egypt delays trial of 240-day hunger striker

Court ignores plea from lawyer of Mohamed Soltan, a dual US-Egyptian citizen, whose health remains critical.

Soltan's case is an example of many detainees in Egyptian prisons held without trial [Reuters]

An Egyptian court has once again extended the detention of Mohamed Soltan, who has been on hunger strike for nearly 240 days, and whose protracted pre-trial detention reflects the plight of hundreds of detainees.

Cairo’s Criminal Court on Tuesday postponed the trial of Soltan, a dual Egyptian-American citizen, to October 11, overlooking a request by his lawyers to end his detention due to his critical health conditions.

Unfortunately there is no telling how much longer Soltan’s body will keep going, but he’s determined not to break the strike,” Soltan’s sister Hanaa said, following the court session. “It’s the only means he has to protest the injustice he has been facing for the past thirteen months.” 

Soltan was arrested on August 25 last year after participating in a media panel that reported violations committed by Egypt’s security forces during the bloody dispersal of vigils staged by supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi.

He is accused of spreading “false information to destabilise the country” and “funding the Rabaa al-Adawiya sit-in”, which the government says harboured “terrorists”.

“He’s either in danger of getting a blood clot, given the fact that he has a blood clotting disorder, or internal bleeding. During the last visitation, he had visible blue spots under his skin indicating internal bleeding,” said Hanaa.

She added that he is being sent to prison doctors or intensive care units, where he is put on IV fluids and then sent back to his solitary confinement cell.

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“He has been pressured, threatened and even kidnapped to scare him into eating. They send him into rooms full of food and fruits in an attempt to photograph him. He was told: Either eat and get better or just stop drinking water and die, so we could all rest,” she said.

Amnesty International condemned the denial of urgently-needed medical care to Soltan. “Denying medical care to someone who is critically ill is not just callous and cruel, but blatantly unlawful,” Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa programme, said in a statement issued on September 19. 

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“Mohamed Soltan should not have been in jail in the first place, and what he is accused of should not be a criminal offence. Now, the authorities are toying with his life in this manner,” said Sahraoui. “He should be released without delay.”

The case of Soltan is an example of many others who have become victims of a decree issued in September, 2013, permitting the unlimited extension of pre-trial detentions for suspects who may face death penalties or life imprisonment.

Human rights defenders accuse the government of using this decree to muffle activists. Together with a controversial law banning unauthorised protests, young activists, critical of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and his administration, were compelled to abandon the streets in fear of punishment.

According to NGOs’ tally, over 41,000 people have been jailed or faced prosecution during the period from Morsi’s unseating on June 30, 2013, to May 14 of this year. Amnesty says more than 16,000 people were jailed.

“We hope and are always optimistic of his release and the release of other hunger strikers itself is a victory for all hunger strikers including him,” Hanaa said.

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Over 100 prisoners have taken part in the campaign, joined by tens of sympathisers outside prison cells, in hope that the government would release largely-young activists who were arbitrarily arrested.

Among those who joined the campaign were Al Jazeera Arabic reporter Abdullah Elshamy, who was released in June after 10 months in jail without charges. Upon his release, al-Shamy ended a hunger strike which he had started in January.

Another participant of the campaign is renowned activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah, who was sentenced in absentia to 15 years in prison. Alaa was released in September pending his retrial for breaching the anti-protest law.

But Soltan, along with the vast majority of detainees in Egyptian prisons, has not received the same attention granted to only a few renowned activists.

In a letter released in November to mark his 26th birthday, Soltan pleaded US President Barrack Obama to intervene.

Describing a painful surgical procedure he underwent in prison, and which was carried out by a fellow inmate due to lack of proper medical care, Soltan said: “Your abandonment of me, an American citizen who worked tirelessly towards your election, and a staunch supporter and defender of your presidency, has left a sting in me that is almost as intense as the sharp pain emanating from my recently sliced arm.”

Source: Al Jazeera