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Egyptian-American’s hunger strike hits 100th day

Mohamad Soltan has been in an Egyptian prison for more than 250 days and is on day 100 of a hunger strike protesting his arrest and treatment in jail
Mohamad Soltan's health is said to be rapidly deteriorating after 100 days of hunger strike (Free Soltan)

As the 100th day passed on Tuesday of an Egyptian-American prisoner’s hunger strike in Egypt, Mohamad Soltan’s friends say his condition is rapidly deteriorating.

A close childhood friend, Omar Bayazid, told Middle East Eye that the 26-year-old’s health was worsening in custody and that he is badly in need of medical treatment. Soltan was shot in the arm on August 14, 2013 when security forces broke up pro-brotherhood sit-ins in Cairo’s Rabaa Al-Adawiya Square.

Soltan is just one of approximately 16,000 people, according to figures confirmed by senior Egyptian ministry and military officials, who were arrested as part of a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood following the military’s overthrow of president Mohamed Morsi last July.

Although he was shot at the Rabaa sit-in and the FreeSoltan Twitter page describes him as an "anti-coup activist", Soltan's sister Hanaa told Middle East Eye that he never worked for the Muslim Brotherhood, and that he had travelled to Egypt to care for his mother after she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

"Even though he was deeply committed to the rebuilding of Egypt, he did not have any political affiliations. It's a common mistake to link him given [our] father's role in the Muslim Brotherhood," said Hanaa.

"Soltan simply served as a citizen journalist during the Rab'aa sit ins given his fluency in both Arabic and English. In fact, he was personally opposed to [former president Mohamed] Morsi's and the MB's style of governance, but simply was against military rule returning to Egypt", she added.

Soltan was detained on August 25 when security forces raided his house, looking for his father, a Muslim Brotherhood leader.

Another of Soltan’s friends, who administers a Facebook page calling for his release, said the Egyptian-American had become a victim of the Egyptian judicial system. He told MEE “Soltan is told about new charges every time he is interrogated. The lawyer says the only two crimes that are on record are membership in a terrorist organization and misinforming media.” The country’s courts have faced international condemnation in recent months for mass death sentences passed on brotherhood supporters.

Due to his American citizenship, Soltan’s case has been covered by US media, though not to the extent of international coverage seen with Australian Al-Jazeera journalist Peter Greste or Canadian-Egyptian Al-Jazeera journalist Mohammed Fahmy.

In January, the New York Times published a letter by Soltan that had been smuggled out of prison. In it, Soltan gives a graphic account of how his injuries were left untreated in the prison.

Because prison guards refused to send him to hospital, Soltan says he was instead tended to by a fellow inmate:

“He used pliers and a straight razor in lieu of a scalpel. I laid on a dirty mat as my other cellmates held me down to ensure I did not jolt from the pain and risk permanent loss of feeling and function in that arm. The pain was so excruciating, it felt like my brain could explode at any given point. I was finally given two aspirin pills almost an hour later when the guards found my cellmate’s screams for help unbearable.”

He also details instances where the guards would force him and other inmates to run a gauntlet of beatings.

“During the day, soldiers and police would form two straight lines, and we would have to run in between them as they beat us with rocks and sticks … The officers stripped off our pants and shirts as they beat us with clubs. They put us in jail cells with what must have been 60 other inmates … The wound on my arm was open and oozing, and not one of the guards seemed to care because I was labelled a political prisoner." 

Complicating Soltan’s medical state is a blood condition he suffers from which requires the use of drugs to prevent blood clots.

Soltan’s case is being kept alive by his family and friends, with US social justice NGO Codepink also helping to organise a protest at the Egyptian Embassy in Washington on 21 April.

Fatima Mohammadi, a US lawyer who had worked with Soltan for years on humanitarian issues, said he has “tirelessly supported the growth of an independent, democratic Egypt.”

“Mohamed is a friend and brother to many, but to the Egyptian government he is merely case 317,” she said.

100 days of hunger

Another reason Soltan’s case stands out is the length of his hunger strike.

Mohammadi explained to MEE that Soltan began his hunger strike “in protest of his extended imprisonment without evidence of any crime committed”.

“Even at his arrest, the prosecutors and judge were completely unprepared and lacked any evidence to bring charges against him”, she said, adding that they have relied on a technicality to extend his detention now for more than 250 days.