Egyptian prisoners go on hunger strike to protest conditions

Most of the prisoners are supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood who were arrested in a violent crackdown in August

Protesters demand the release of political prisoners outside the Cairo Opera house on Monday.
Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters

More than 300 prisoners in Egypt, including Al Jazeera reporter Abdulla Al Shami, have gone on hunger strike to protest against "ill-treatment" and the conditions they're being held in.

The prisoners, who announced the strike Monday, claim their prison cells are full of insects and that they are allowed to go outside for just half an hour a day. They also said that prisoners are housed in small cells with as many as 60 people.

Al Shami, along with other prisoners, was arrested during a violent crackdown on pro-Muslim Brotherhood protesters in August.

A Twitter account operated by the Muslim Brotherhood, which has largely been driven underground by a massive crackdown, said prisoners have been "banned from family visits, legal counseling, medical care and (live in) overcrowded and unhygienic cells."

Egyptian security forces have arrested thousands of Islamists, including virtually the entire top leadership of deposed President Mohamed Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, since he was removed July 3.

Morsi became the country's first freely elected leader last year, after the ouster of Hosni Mubarak in 2011. But his turbulent year-long rule was deeply polarizing, and the Egyptian military forced him from power after massive protests in which demonstrators accused him of betraying the 2011 "revolution."

The Brotherhood said several senior figures were taking part in the strike.

Earlier this month Human Rights Watch said Egypt's military-installed authorities had detained five Morsi aides for nearly five months without disclosing their whereabouts, saying it amounted to an "enforced disappearance."

Murad Ali, a spokesman of the Freedom and Justice Party, the political wing of the Brotherhood, said authorities were not allowing the movement's members to read newspapers and had confiscated their books and radios.

"The dictators believe that these harsh conditions will make us retreat, but in fact they are making sure that our dream of Egypt becoming a free and democratic state is coming ever closer."

The hunger strike is the latest protest over what many see as overly harsh treatment of dissidents by Egypt's new government.

On Saturday, the government charged Morsi with inciting a prison break in 2011.

Earlier this month, police fired tear gas at anti-government and pro-Morsi protesters.

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel voiced concern about the crackdown on protesters last month.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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