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Imprisoned Egyptian poet begins total hunger strike

June 2, 2023 at 9:14 am

Imprisoned Egyptian poet Galal El-Behairy [PEN America]

Egyptian poet, Galal El-Behairy, has started a complete hunger strike, abstaining from food and water, in objection to his continued imprisonment for over five years, a human rights group said yesterday.

The Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF) said: “Poet Galal El-Behairy has embarked on a total hunger strike in his confinement as of today [Thursday].”

It added that El-Behairy resorted to a total hunger strike “as part of his escalation to demand his release after five years of imprisonment.”

Quoting a letter from El-Behairy, the body indicated that he decided to commence a complete hunger strike “due to the poor conditions in the prison, the prohibition of pens and paper inside his cell, as well as the continuous 24-hour lighting and the limited visitation time, which is reduced to only 20 minutes.”

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“I will continue the strike until I regain my freedom, whether alive or not,” El-Behairy’s letter read, according to ECRF.

Egyptian authorities detained El-Behairy in 2018 at Cairo airport after he was accused of insulting the president.

In July 2018, a military court sentenced him to three years in prison with hard labour for a collection of poems deemed “an insult to the military institution and its leaders.”

He completed his sentence in 2021, but he remained in custody as he faced charges from the Supreme State Security Prosecution of “joining a terrorist group and spreading false news,” the ongoing case in which he is currently being tried.

El-Behairy began a hunger strike on 5 March and told PEN International earlier this month that he would escalate it on 1 June and refuse to take fluids.

Human rights organisations estimate that the number of political detainees in Egypt has reached around 60,000 since President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi came to power in 2014, following the military’s violent overthrow of the late democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi and the authorities’ subsequent widespread crackdown on the opposition.

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