Well-known Egyptian blogger and activist Alaa Abdel Fattah launched a hunger strike in prison at the start of the holy month of Ramadan, according to his family. Fattah started refusing food from Saturday, April 2, to protest against the inhumane detention conditions. Fattah’s sister Mona Seif, also an activist, recently visited him in prison and said in a statement, “I just finished Alaa’s visit. It was a heavy visit. 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 food and only took medication, tea and personal hygiene products.”
Fattah’s mother Laila Soueif, a widely respected political and human rights activist and an academic, said Fattah was placed under “heavy supervision, in solitary confinement,” and that “he is not allowed books or exercise, and this prison is known for not respecting any laws.” Fattah’s lawyer Khaled Ali had warned in September that the activist was suicidal because of the abuse and mistreatment meted out to him by the Egyptian authorities. Ali expressed alarm at Fattah’s rapidly declining mental health saying, “I know Alaa very well. He does not lie or mislead. He will only say what he will do.” Fattah had reportedly told Ali, “I am in a dreadful situation. I can’t carry on. Take me out of this prison. I will commit suicide. 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.”
The 40-year-old activist is serving a five-year prison term after conviction by an Egyptian emergency court. He was convicted of “spreading fake news and undermining national security.” Human rights lawyer Mohamed el-Baqer and blogger Mohamed “Oxygen” Ibrahim were also convicted along with him on charges of “spreading false news.” The two were slapped with prison sentences of four years each. Before being convicted, the three were held in illegal pre-trial detention for over two years after being arrested in September 2019 following countrywide anti-corruption protests.
Fattah has been targeted by the Egyptian regime and persecuted for more than a decade. The authorities have arrested him multiple times following his prominent role in the uprising of 2011 against then president Hosni Mubarak. The revolution ultimately led to the downfall of the Mubarak regime after 30 years in power. Fattah was arrested in 2013 after taking part in protests against the regime of current president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi following the military coup against the first democratically elected president of Egypt, Mohammed Morsi. He was subsequently sentenced to five years in prison in February 2015. He was released four years later on a conditional basis in March 2019 before being arrested again.
Since taking power in the 2013 coup, the Egyptian government of president el-Sisi has embarked on a systematic campaign of violence and repression against political opponents, dissidents, critics and pro-democracy and human rights activists. Thousands of activists, lawyers, writers, journalists, academics, political figures and others have been arrested and made victims of judicial persecution or threatened and targeted with brazen state violence.
The developments in Egypt have been described as one of the worst crackdowns on human rights in the modern history of the country. According to estimates, the Egyptian government is currently illegally detaining over 60,000 political prisoners for opposing and criticizing the ruling establishment. Several prisoners have died due to the terrible living conditions inside prisons. Many others have died at the hands of the authorities following months and years of abuse, torture, mental and physical assaults, medical negligence and other such causes.