Well-known Egyptian activist Alaa Abdel Fattah has gone on hunger strike to protest against the ban on family visits implemented by authorities since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
His decision to abstain from food comes after President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi pardoned a number of prisoners for Sinai Liberation Day but excluded detainees on charges related to national security, counter terror or the protest law, which excludes opposition figures or political prisoners.
In March Egyptian security forces arrested three of Alaa’s female relatives after they staged a protest in Cairo calling for the release of all detainees amid fears of a coronavirus outbreak in Egypt’s overcrowded prisons.
The women were later released on bail but Egypt’s prisoners remain in detention, where the overcrowded cells, poor hygiene and lack of medication remain a huge worry for their families and prime breeding ground for a contagious disease.
He had already spent five years in prison for allegedly organising an illegal protest and one of the conditions of his release was five years’ probation, under which he had to sleep in a police station every night.
His arrest came as part of a sweep by authorities on activists and politicians to try and curb the September demonstrations against the Sisi government which gathered pace after revelations of corruption by whistleblower Mohamed Ali went viral.
A month after his arrest, Alaa told lawyers he had been beaten, threatened and robbed inside prison. His lawyer Mohammed Al-Baqer was arrested whilst representing his client and has consistently had his pretrial detention renewed.
With limited access to lawyers and an unfair justice system, Egypt’s detainees regularly turn to hunger strike as a way to protest their ill-treatment and inhuman conditions and pressure prosecutors to open cases looking into complaints, including of torture.
In January, Mustafa Kassem became the first American to die in an Egyptian prison after he suffered heart failure after being denied medical care whilst on hunger and thirst strike to protest against his unfair trial.