CIHRS Alumni Tell Stories of Hunger Strikers Behind Bars

In CIHRS Alumni Club by CIHRS

10647164_758523260879203_6504322431894997194_nIn the evening of October 19, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies’ Alumni Club staged a performance at AUC’s Greek Campus, Downtown Cairo, in which they presented stories of prisoners who have decided to go on hunger strike to protest against their unfair trials and inhumane treatment in prison.

The performance, titled, “Cannula: Stories of Empty Stomachs,” was attended by both the public and the media. It told the stories of 14 detainees, among them field medics, journalists, and demonstrators of various causes. The production drew on the testimonies of  friends and families of the detainees and letters and articles written by the detainees themselves in which they speak of the hardships they face and their motives for going on hunger strike.

He called out to the undercover cops, “We should show Mr. Journalist here some respect.” Suddenly I found batons being struck all over my body and hands striking my face. I fell to the ground. The water and the tickets fell, and they started to beat me with their belts all over my body. When they got tired of beating me, the policeman took the tickets and opened the bottles of water I’d bought and poured them out onto the ground. He told me, “I was going to take something small, uncle Journalist [a belittling term] so by God I’ll take the tickets and pass them out to the undercover cops.” After I returned to the cell and the door shut, the shift sergeant came and told me, “the investigating officer wants to question you,” so I went with him to the office.

The performance began at 7:30 p.m. with an introduction by Mohamed Zaree, the director of the Egypt Program at CIHRS. Zaree noted that the production comes at a time in which civil society groups, especially independent rights organizations, are experiencing difficult circumstances. These organizations are facing security crackdowns on their activities and smear campaigns in the media the likes of which have not been seen in the last 30 years. It seems as if a political decision has been made that these organizations are unwanted. Zaree added that the goal of the performance was to raise the voices of hunger strikers and explain their reasons for going on hunger strike. The production, he said, constituted a call to the government to affirm the principle of fair trials, the right to peaceful protest, and the right to bodily integrity and the humane treatment of detainees. Zaree urged the authorities to comply with the constitution, which Egyptians were mobilized to approve, and not to circumvent the guarantees it includes.

Shadi Abdullah, the director of the play, also spoke, noting that narrating the stories of detainees is an attempt to turn them into more than simply numbers, headlines, and trial dates: in other words to humanize them. He said that the performers were “faithfully recounting” the stories they had collected, having decided to present them without change or distortion, out of respect for the faith and trust the detainees and their families had placed in the group of performers. He stressed that the performers were not actors, but storytellers, telling the true tales of real heroes who continue to suffer in detention.

The detainees here are young people and elderly folks. You’ll find people with the revolution and against it. You’ll find liberals, communists, and others who have nothing to do with anything, but the people who have nothing to do with anything are the majority. Here, too, detainees die of medical neglect just like people do in hospitals on the outside. If you object on the outside, you’ll be jailed, and if you object on the inside, you’re put in solitary confinement. Even the bribes you pay on the outside, you pay them inside too, but using cigarettes instead of money. So don’t get too upset, because our lives are like yours, just a bit more intense.

The 50-minute performance, attended by more than 300 people, also spotlighted the stories of field medics and journalists arrested while doing their jobs during various demonstrations and clashes in Egypt over the last 15 months. They recently decided to go on hunger strike to protest their arrest and their degrading treatment inside prison.

The performance also highlighted the effect of hunger strikes as a method of protest on the families of detainees, relying on the testimonies of hunger strikers’ wives, children, and siblings, who explained the circumstances of their loved ones’ arrest and how the hunger strike has affected the rest of the family.

The day the appeal was denied, they got very angry at me. Always before the trial sessions, we have some hope. When I came back, as I opened the door, I heard them saying, “Dad’s here, dad’s here!” I opened the door and stood there while they looked behind me, asking, “Is Dad on his way up?” I told them, no, Dad couldn’t come today. My daughter ran to her room, and my son told me, “We’re not going to talk to you because you couldn’t bring Dad home.” And they didn’t talk to me for two days. Ahmed suddenly told me, “I’m not going to wait, I’m going to start the strike now.” He had postponed it because his mom was ill and he didn’t want her to see him while he was sick.

The CIHRS’s Alumni Club, an independent forum that includes all graduates of CIHRS’ training sessions, was established in 2011. An important component of the ‘Teaching Human Rights Program’ at the CIHRS, it allows alumni to maintain contacts in order to spread a culture of human rights and create a cadre of young people interested in human rights. The Teaching Program offers full technical support to the Alumni Club.


To watch segments from the performance, see:

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