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Egypt: Galal El-Behairy suspends hunger strike as health deteriorates

June 6, 2023 at 10:53 am

Imprisoned Egyptian poet Galal El-Behairy [PEN America]

An Egyptian poet who stopped drinking water on 1 June to protest his continued imprisonment has suspended the strike as his health has deteriorated and he hasn’t received adequate healthcare.

Galal El-Behairy was sentenced to three years in prison by a military court in 2018 and then as he was about to be released, further charges were brought against him in 2021.

Shortly before his arrest, El-Behairy wrote the lyrics for a song balaha, or red date, which mocked the president and berated his cruel policies.

He was criticised on TV, smeared as a foreign spy and calls were made for his citizenship to be revoked.

In 2020 filmmaker Shady Habash died in prison after being detained for two years without trial and being accused of “spreading false news” after he produced balaha, which has over seven million hits on YouTube.

Habash’s death was the third in ten months among political prisoners in Tora prison. His health had deteriorated for days, but cellmates say no medical help was sent, despite them asking for it.

El-Behairy started a hunger strike on 5 March to draw attention to the dire conditions of his detainment, including being forcibly disappeared, tortured, and beaten.

Like Habash was, El-Behairy is on pretrial detention, which has been constantly renewed since his arrest in 2018, a punitive measure used against perceived or real critics of the government in a process that does not meet fair trial standards.

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In May, the Egyptian Front for Human Rights recorded that over a nine month period, Egyptian courts renewed the pretrial detention of over 20,000 people on terror related charges and released only three.

According to the Egypt-based NGO Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, before he suspended his strike, prison authorities at Badr 1 prison promised to resolve El-Behairy’s complaints.

In April, Egyptian rights groups branded Badr 1 prison a “human slaughterhouse” after it saw the largest wave of suicide attempts in Egyptian history.

Other inmates that went on hunger strike complained about the lack of access to adequate medicine, cruel punishments and the denial of family visits.

Prisoners say they have been kept in cells with bright lights for 24 hours, chained to the walls without food and water and tortured by electric shock if they complain.