CAIRO – Three veteran activists of Egypt’s 2011 revolution told a court Monday that they were suffering abuse at the hands of their jailers and that they were even beaten up by the prison guards bringing them to court.
The allegations by the well-known figures highlighted the worsening plight of detainees in Egypt’s jam-packed prisons. Thousands of people have been imprisoned since July, when the military-backed interim government took over, and human rights groups have cited a deluge of what they describe as credible accounts of maltreatment.
A lawyer for activists Ahmed Maher, Ahmed Douma and Mohamed Adel said they had began a hunger strike in protest of the abuse. They remain jailed while appealing three-year prison sentences handed down to them in December for violating a tough anti-protest law enacted the previous month. They were also fined about $7,250 each.
The arrest and prosecution of the three, best known for their roles in the uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak, marked the start of an expanded crackdown by authorities, who had previously targeted primarily supporters of ousted Islamist President Mohamed Morsi. In recent months, the dragnet has widened to include a broad range of perceived government opponents: secular activists, academics, filmmakers and journalists.
Western governments and human rights groups have expressed concern about the continued erosion of freedom of expression in Egypt, despite the ratifying of a new constitution in January that guarantees basic liberties. Political opposition has been largely muzzled in advance of an expected run for president by Field Marshal Abdel Fattah Sisi, the military chief who in effect runs the country.
During Monday’s hearing, the three were not able to speak at length to detail their claims of maltreatment, said their lawyer, Tarek Elawady. However, other high-profile prisoners have written jailhouse letters describing overcrowded, insect-ridden cells, miserable sanitary conditions and lack of blankets despite chilly nights. Many are held for long periods without formal charges.
Elawady said the three bore signs of the beatings they described as taking place en route to the courthouse. The court ordered the prosecutor to investigate, and the case was adjourned until April 7.
To many activists, abuses by police and prison authorities are reminiscent of the Mubarak era and a government they fought to overturn three years ago. Public anger over police brutality was one of the galvanizing forces behind the 2011 revolution.
Maher is the founder of the April 6 Youth Movement, which played a prominent role in the uprising. Adel is a member of the same movement, and Douma is a blogger and independent rights activist.
Hassan is a special correspondent.