Jailed for Protests, Activists in Egypt and Bahrain Turn to Hunger Strikes

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Author: Robert Mackey
Date: Sept. 5, 2014
Publisher: The New York Times Company
Document Type: Article
Length: 955 words
Content Level: (Level 5)
Lexile Measure: 1650L

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Three years after they helped lead street protests demanding democracy in Egypt and Bahrain, prominent Arab Spring activists in both nations are now starving themselves in prison, hoping to draw attention to intensifying crackdowns on dissent there.

Following prison visits this week, relatives expressed fears for the health of at least two of the activists on hunger strike: Ahmed Douma, a leader of Egypt's April 6 Youth movement who was sentenced to three years in prison after the military-backed government banned unsanctioned street protests last year, and Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, the founder of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, who was given a life sentence for his role in the 2011 protests.

Protest now in the capital #Manama in soldarity with the hunger-strikers in #Bahrain jail and Abdulhadi Alkhawaja pic.twitter.com/hOwqGj8GCV -- S.Yousif Almuhafda (@SAIDYOUSIF) September 4, 2014

Egypt's National Council for Human Rights called on Thursday for the authorities to put Mr. Douma and another detainee, Mohamed Abdel Rahman, under medical supervision at a civilian hospital, the news site Aswat Masriya reported. The council, whose members are appointed by the state, made the recommendation after a delegation visited Tora Prison in Cairo, where nearly two dozen activists were on hunger strike.

In Bahrain on Thursday, Mr. Khawaja's daughter, Zainab, expressed concern that his condition could deteriorate further, as he entered the 11th day of his latest hunger strike.

We all have a heavy feeling.. he's on the 11th day of hungerstrike, he's not ok & we all know its only going to get worse #Bahrain -- angry arabiya (@angryarabiya) September 4, 2014

Writing on her popular @AngryArabiya Twitter feed, Ms. Khawaja also recounted a brief visit with her sister Maryam, who was arrested last week at the airport in Bahrain's capital, Manama, as she was returning to the country to visit her father.

Maryam al-Khawaja, who works from Denmark to draw attention to human rights abuses in Bahrain, has been held since Friday in ''preventive detention'' for supposedly ''humiliating and beating'' police officers after her arrest at the airport, a prosecutor told the International Service for Human Rights in an email. At the time of her arrest, Ms. Khawaja tweeted from her phone that officials at the airport initially claimed that she had been stripped of her Bahraini citizenship.

Overheard guards saying they are going to deport me. They keep saying I am not a citizen, but won't show me any documents to that effect. -- Maryam Alkhawaja (@MARYAMALKHAWAJA) August 29, 2014

She had expressed skepticism about the value of her work abroad to apply pressure on Bahrain's Western allies, principally the United States and Britain, in a video interview with Human Rights Watch that was recorded in London in May.

[Video: A video interview with Maryam al-Khawaja, a Bahraini rights activist, recorded in May. Watch on YouTube.]

In a series of Twitter updates on Thursday, Zainab al-Khawaja relayed her sister's claim that she had been assaulted during her arrest.

"Even when 4 policewomen attacked me, I did not raise a finger to protect myself" Maryam Alkhawaja told us in the visit today #bahrain -- angry arabiya (@angryarabiya) September 4, 2014

she continued "In any other country, with just laws, it wud be me taking those police to court for what they did to me" #Bahrain #FreeMaryam -- angry arabiya (@angryarabiya) September 4, 2014

"1 police women put her knee in my stomach, another twister my arm behind my back. My only reaction was to hold on to my phone" #Bahrain -- angry arabiya (@angryarabiya) September 4, 2014

"as 1 policewoman was forcing my hand open, another was holding me down, she had fake nails & I noticed 1 nail falling off" Maryam #Bahrain -- angry arabiya (@angryarabiya) September 4, 2014

"In public prosecution I realized thats the policewoman they're accusin me of attackin, I think she was as surprised as I" Maryam #Bahrain -- angry arabiya (@angryarabiya) September 4, 2014

The 2 prison guards stood up, visit already over, Maryam looked at us 1 by 1 "Are u SURE dads ok?! U wudnt hide anything from me?" #Bahrain -- angry arabiya (@angryarabiya) September 4, 2014

Be4 we left Mum looked at the prison guard & asked "Can I hug my daughter?".. "No." came the reply #Bahrain #FreeMaryam -- angry arabiya (@angryarabiya) September 4, 2014

Last week, Bahrain's Interior Ministry suggested that the monarchy might soon crack down even harder on Internet activists who fail to ''understand the limits of freedom of speech.'' According to the ministry's press office, the nation's director-general of criminal investigation and forensic science, Brigadier Abdulrahman Sinan, warned that ''the misuse of the Internet in so far as it related to regional security might result in the introduction of regulations on the use of social media.''

The Egyptian hunger strikers include Alaa Abd El Fattah, a prominent blogger known to hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers simply as @Alaa, who was sentenced in June to 15 years in prison for attending a street protest, and his sister Sanaa Seif, who has been held in pretrial detention since attending a protest against the law banning street protests that was held a week later.

Their sister, Mona Seif, and their mother, Laila Soueif, who are both prominent rights activists, announced on Facebook on Thursday that they were starting hunger strikes of their own. The siblings had been briefly reunited last week under close supervision from plainclothes officers at the funeral of their father, the rights lawyer Ahmed Seif al-Islam Hamad, where mourners chanted against the military-backed government.

''Father left our world and those left, Alaa and Sanaa, are wrongfully imprisoned,'' Mona Seif wrote on Facebook, according to a translation from Mada Masr, an independent Cairene news site Mr. Abd El Fattah helped to design.

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