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Prominent Egyptian dissident launches hunger strike in prison

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Egyptian activist and blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah during his trial in May 2015. (Photo by AFP)

Prominent Egyptian activist and a key figure in the country's 2011 revolution, Alaa Abdel Fattah, began a hunger strike in prison at the start of the holy month of Ramadan, his family said Monday.

Sentenced to five years in prison by an emergency court in December on the charges of "broadcasting false news", Fattah has been refusing food since Saturday, according to his sister Mona Seif. 

“I just finished Alaa's visit. It was a heavy visit," Seif said in a tweet on Monday.

“Alaa showed up today with his head shaven and I knew he was on an open hunger strike since the first day of Ramadan. He returned the food and only took medication, tea, and personal hygiene products," she added. 

لسة مخلصة زيارة علاء .. كانت زيارة ثقيلة، بس فوقتني من حالة التنحة وفكرتني أصل الموضوع وليه علاء اصلا محبوس

علاء طلع النهاردة حالق شعره تماما وعرفت انه مضرب اضراب مفتوح عن الطعام من أول يوم رمضان
بالتالي رفض يستلم الاكل، ودخلتله بس الادوية وحاجة النظافة والشاي

— Mona Seif (@Monasosh) April 4, 2022

In a separate tweet, she said her brother had "returned all food" and "only took medication, tea and personal hygiene products."

“I'll take a moment to process, then we'll share in more detail his updates,” she wrote.

Today was @alaa's visit, he told me he is on hunger strike since 1st day of Ramadan, Saturday, and returned all food we brought him. Only took medication, tea and personal hygiene products

I'll take a moment to process, then we'll share in more detail his updates#FreeAlaa

— Mona Seif (@Monasosh) April 4, 2022

His family told the media that Fattah was refusing to eat because his prison conditions were bad. They said he was not even allowed exercise and that the person was known for “not respecting any laws."

Fattah is a left-wing blogger, software developer, and icon of the 2011 Egyptian revolution. He has served many jail terms over the past 10 years for participation in anti-government protests.

The verdict against him and two of his companions and co-defendants, human rights lawyer Mohamed el-Baqer and blogger Mohamed Ibrahim, has been widely condemned by human rights watchdogs.

They were arrested in September 2019 and held in pre-trial detention for more than two years. While his friends were sentenced to four years each, he was given a five-year jail term.

In September last year, two months before the verdict came, Fattah's lawyer warned of the deteriorating mental health of the jailed activist, saying he was seriously considering suicide.

“I am in a dreadful situation. I can’t carry on. Take me out of this prison. I will commit suicide," he said, as quoted by his lawyer Khaled Ali. 

“Since 2011, I have not spent even one year out of prison. If the aim is to kill me, then let me just kill myself," he told Ali.  

Before his 2019 arrest, Abdel Fattah was sentenced to five years in prison on charges of protesting without permission against the 2013 military coup led by the general-turned-president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

The political activist was granted conditional release in March 2019, only to be arrested again in September.

Sisi has faced international criticism for cracking down on civil society groups following the army’s overthrow of then-President Mohamed Morsi, the country’s first democratically-elected president.

Thousands of supporters of Morsi, as well as activists like Fattah, have been detained since the coup, with many of them dying in custody due to inhumane prison conditions and medical neglect. 

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