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Ahmed Douma begins hunger strike to protest poor treatment in prison

Imprisoned writer and activist Ahmed Douma began a hunger strike on Saturday to protest poor treatment and physical assault by prison staff, according to his brother. On Wednesday, Douma informed members of his family that imprisoned researcher Ahmed Samir Santawy and journalist Hisham Fouad have also joined the hunger strike.

All three are accusing a staff member at Tora Prison Complex of physically assaulting and abusing prisoners, including Douma and Santawy, according to Douma’s brother, Mohamed.

Douma is demanding that the authorities open an investigation into the conditions of his imprisonment and the reasons he began his hunger strike, which also include medical negligence, prohibition from daily exercise and the punitive use of solitary confinement.

Douma’s brother said that the ill-treatment of the three prisoners began in conjunction with their transfer in December from other prisons to the complex’s Tora Farm Prison, saying that the Prison Authority inspector for the complex, Ahmed al-Wakil, had beaten Santawy during his transfer to a hospital outside the prison, causing a back injury, for which Santawy is still being treated.

The brother added that Wakil also assaulted Douma on Sunday night and tried to forcibly move him to solitary confinement after Douma mentioned the earlier assault on Santawy in a report he filed regarding the hunger strike.

Last week, Santawy and Douma were also separately barred from daily exercise after prison guards refused to let them out of cells while wearing shorts, according to Douma’s brother.

Lawyers have also been unable to visit Douma in detention this month despite several attempts. Authorities at Tora told lawyers that the Interior Ministry has prohibited visits by lawyers to the facility for the duration of March, according to Fatma Sarag, a member of Douma’s defense team. Douma’s brother confirmed that his lawyers have been denied visits multiple times.

A lawyer for Santawy, Ahmed Ragheb, told Mada Masr that he would only be able to confirm Santaway’s hunger strike upon the family’s next visit. Fouad’s wife, Madiha Hussein, responded similarly, telling Mada Masr that his next visit will be in two weeks.

Douma, a prominent activist and one of the founders of the Kefaya and April 6 movements, was arrested in 2013 in relation to demonstrations against the criminalization of public protests. He was sentenced to three years in prison. During his time in detention, he was charged in a second investigation into 2011 protests held at the Cabinet headquarters, for which he ultimately received a 15-year sentence and a fine of LE17 million.

Douma accused prison staff of physically assaulting and abusing him in February. The Interior Ministry denied the allegations without opening an investigation into the event.

Santawy, who was studying at the Central European University, was arrested over a year ago during a visit to Egypt and later sentenced to four years in prison, before the ruling was canceled and he was referred to retrial last month. Fouad, detained over two years ago with other politicians and activists who were planning to form an electoral coalition, is serving a four-year sentence received in November.

It would not be the first time for either of them to enter a hunger strike in protest of their extended imprisonment or mistreatment in prison. Santawy had undertaken a hunger strike in June 2021 that lasted for over a month in protest of the four-year sentence, while Fouad joined a hunger strike for 12 days in July to protest his pretrial detention extending over the legal two-year limit.

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