Jailed MB blogger and journalist among 25 hunger strikers

Faced with what they call “inhumane” prison conditions, including psychological torture, 24 Muslim Brotherhood detainees began a hunger strike on Tuesday, May 8. Among the strikers is blogger and television journalist Abdel Moneim Mahmoud, 27. The detainees say they will continue their strike until they are released from prison and all charges against them dropped.

The government has detained hundreds of Brotherhood members in the past year, and it appears unlikely that the state will acquiesce to the hunger strikers’ demands.

Mahmoud has been charged with a number of offenses related to membership of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is officially banned. He has also been charged with harming Egypt’s reputation through his work and financing student political activities at the Institute of Agricultural Cooperation in Shubra Al-Khaima. The other participants in the hunger strike are students at the institute.

According to a statement smuggled out of prison, Mahmoud alleges that the detainees were sexually and psychological abused at the hands of fellow inmates and prison guards in Cairo’s Mahkoum prison.

Mahkoum mainly houses men convicted of violent crimes. Under international norms Egypt is required to keep political and criminal prisoners separate, although that commitment is frequently not honored. According to the Brotherhood, prison guards encourage violent inmates to intimidate and harass them.

The Brotherhood accuses the government of enlisting these other inmates as part of “a new strategy of psychological torture.” It has also condemned what it calls “the disgraceful inaction by the prison administration” and the men’s “inhumane imprisonment conditions” including “the endless cycle of intimidation by criminal prisoners which reached the point of sexual harassment.”

“The guards are turning a blind eye to whatever violent thing the others prisoners do to the Muslim Brothers in jail,” said Ibrahim El-Houdaiby, a board member of the Brotherhood’s English-language web site, ikhwanweb.com to which Mahmoud contributed. “In some cases, the guards are aggressive themselves, and in others they encourage and even ask other prisoners to be violent with and attack the political detainees.”

In addition to these accusations, Mahmoud’s statement claims that he and other prisoners are held in squalid, insect-infested cells. He also alleges that jailers turn a blind eye to a rampant drug trade inside Mahkoum, and do not provide adequate medical care to sick inmates and detainees.

According to Islam Lotfy, Mahmoud’s lawyer, the prison administration has denied proper medical care to four men with chicken pox and measles. Lotfy also alleges that jailers have provided no treatment to several inmates known to be HIV positive or suffer from tuberculosis, creating the potential for serious health problems.

Mahmoud is a correspondent for London-based Arabic network Al Hiwar and the author of a popular blog entitled “I am a Brother.” In the past year he has written and spoken out about torture in Egypt, drawing on his personal experiences as a detainee in Cairo’s Tora prison in 2003.

Then, he claims, he and other detainees were beaten and forced to stand for hours at a time. He was also held in solitary confinement and made to wear a blindfold for almost two weeks as a form of punishment.

Mahmoud was arrested on board an EgyptAir flight that was about to take off from Cairo International Airport on Saturday April 24. No trial date has been set for the blogger, although on May 8 the office of the Taggamu El Khames prosecutor extended his detention for another 15 days. It was the second such extension since Mahmoud’s arrest.

The Ministry of Interior has declined to comment on the case.