Egypt: Critically ill hunger-striker denied crucial medical care

The Egyptian authorities are putting at risk the life of a jailed activist, whose health has sharply deteriorated after more than 230 days on hunger strike, by denying him sustained medical care and placing him in solitary confinement, said Amnesty International. 

Mohamed Soltan, a dual US-Egyptian national, is among 86 jailed activists who are on hunger strike in prisons and police stations across Egypt in protest at the dire conditions in which they are held, or in some cases, their prolonged pre-charge or pre-trial detention and unfair trials. They are also protesting against the repressive protest law that many are accused of breaching.  

Mohamed Soltan’s family have warned that his health is in a critical state and he is at imminent risk of organ failure.  

“Denying medical care to someone who is critically ill is not just callous and cruel, but blatantly unlawful,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa programme. 

“The authorities have an obligation to ensure that all detainees in their custody are granted access to adequate medical care.”

Mohamed Soltan has been placed in solitary confinement in al-Aqrab maximum security prison as punishment for his hunger strike. According to his lawyer, prison authorities only transfer him to the prison medical unit when he loses consciousness. He is returned to his cell each time he comes round.  

Mohamed Soltan was arrested in August 2013 during the crackdown against pro-Morsi supporters at Rabaa Al Adeweya Square. He had been working with a media committee which reported violations by the security forces against pro-Morsi supporters since his ousting.

Mohamed Soltan has been charged with “funding the Rabaa al-Adawiya sit-in” and spreading “false information” to destabilize the country. The security forces raided Mohamed Soltan’s home in Cairo on 25 August 2013, looking for his father, Salah Soltan, a Muslim Brotherhood figure. The security forces arrested Mohamed Soltan and three of his friends when they did not find his father.

“Mohamed Soltan should not have been in jail in the first place and what he is accused of should not be a criminal offence.  Now, the authorities are toying with his life in this manner,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui. “He should be released without delay.”

According to official statistics, the Egyptian authorities continue to hold at least 16,000 detainees, in prisons and police stations since the ousting of former president Mohamed Morsi. Their conditions of detention frequently fall far short of international human rights standards and may amount to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Often the detainees face trumped up or politically motivated charges and trials that fall far short of international standards.

The Egyptian authorities must abide by their international obligations, including by carrying out fair trials that meet international standards and immediately and unconditionally release all those detained solely for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression, association and assembly. 

In another case illustrating the inhumane treatment of hunger-strikers, security forces attempted to force Ibrahim El Yamany to end his hunger strike by placing him in solitary confinement for 20 days and tying his arms and legs to the bars of his cell door for several hours in Wadi al Natroun Prison.  He has been on hunger strike for more than 150 days. He was detained for his work in a field hospital during protests in Ramsis Square, in Cairo on 16 and 17 August 2013. He is charged with belonging to a banned group, protesting without authorization and using violence, among other charges.

“The authorities have an obligation to ensure the right to health of all detainees, including hunger strikers,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui. 

“Punishing detainees to force them to end their hunger strike is a violation of their right to freedom of expression. Such treatment in Egypt’s notorious prisons must end now.”

There are other prisons across Egypt where detainees held in harsh detention conditions are on hunger strike. According to “Freedom for the Brave Campaign” a support group for prisoners, at least 57 detainees are on hunger strike in Abu Zabaal Prison in Cairo and at least 15 are on hunger strike in Tora Prison. 


Other prominent detainees on hunger strike include the well-known blogger Ahmed Douma, who is serving a three year prison sentence for defying Egypt’s draconian protest law. Also among them is Sanaa Seif, a well-known activist who has been on hunger strike since 28 August 2014. Her father, the tireless human rights lawyer, Ahmed Seif al-Islam, passed away last month. She is on hunger strike in protest at the authorities’ refusal to allow her to spend some time with her father in his final days. 

Outside of prison, at least 54 activists and human rights defenders are on hunger strike in solidarity with those in detention including Sanaa’s sister, Mona Seif and Aida Seif El Dawla, executive director at al Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence.