The Committee for Justice has expressed grave concerns over the escalating number of suicide attempts among those political detainees in Egypt. CFJ believes this disturbing trend underscores the detainees’ desperation in the face of persistent human rights violations. The prevailing conditions suggest a systematic apathy towards basic human rights by the Egyptian authorities, pushing detainees to life-threatening extremes.
A case in point is the recent incident involving the renowned Egyptian poet, Galal El Behairy. El Behairy’s suicide attempt in Badr 1 prison is viewed as a testament to the continuing despair felt by political prisoners in the country.
Ahmed Douma, a notable Egyptian political activist who was recently granted a presidential pardon, has shed light on the grim circumstances surrounding El Behairy’s suicide attempt. He confirmed that El Behairy attempted suicide on September 9th in protest of his extended pretrial detention. Fortunately, he was swiftly transferred to the prison’s medical facility, which ultimately saved his life. Douma further mentioned that he received a message, relayed through El Behairy’s family, detailing the incident.
It’s worth noting that prior to this, El Behairy had started a hunger strike on September 5th, marking two years since his pretrial detention commenced. This was after serving a separate 3-year prison term, post which he was re-detained pending a different case.
The Egyptian authorities arrested El Behairy on March 3, 2018, at Cairo Airport, following his release of a song titled “Balaha,” performed by Ramy Essam. For a significant period, his family and legal representatives were deprived of any contact with him or access to information concerning his detention and the charges against him. On March 10, 2018, he appeared before the State Security Prosecution, bearing visible signs of torture and severe physical abuse. He was charged with several offenses, including “joining a terrorist group, spreading false news, misusing social media, insulting religion, and insulting the military establishment.”
Galal El Behairy was subsequently sentenced by a military court to three years in prison, with hard labor, and a fine of 10,000 Egyptian pounds. This punitive action was taken on the basis of a poem he had composed, which was deemed derogatory to the military institution and its leadership. On July 31, 2021, he completed his sentence in the case numbered 4 of 2018 by the Military Public Prosecution. However, he remained in custody at Kafr Shokr Police Station from August 5, 2021, until August 16 of the same year. He was subsequently transferred to the National Security headquarters in Banha until his appearance on September 5, 2021, facing charges in case numbered 2000 of 2021 by the Supreme State Security Prosecution, including “joining a terrorist group, spreading false news, damaging public security.”
CFJ perceives the suicide attempt of the Egyptian poet, Galal El Behairy, in his prison cell as an alarming signal to both local and global audiences. It underscores the unbearable conditions within Egyptian prisons and detention centers, exacerbated by a diminishing hope under authorities that seemingly disregard rights and freedoms.
CFJ stresses that silence on these significant human rights violations is unacceptable. Urgent action is crucial to bolster freedoms and rights in Egypt. The recent reluctance of the international community to address this issue has essentially given the Egyptian authorities a green light to freely engage in further violations and degrading treatment of political detainees.
Furthermore, the CFJ demands comprehensive, neutral, and transparent investigations into El Behairy’s suicide attempt. It emphasizes the urgent need to improve the conditions of his detention and that of others held in the Badr prison complex, notorious for its rampant abuses, as well as all political detainees in other prisons and detention centers across the country.
CFJ also urges Egyptian authorities to abandon their security-driven approach while dealing with detainees involved in political cases. They also call for increased international pressure on Egypt to allow UN and other human rights organizations, both international and local, the right to visit these facilities. This would facilitate the monitoring of conditions and documenting of violations within them.