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Egypt: Opposition activist begins hunger strike over three year pre-trial detention

Walid Shawky has been in prison since October 2018 over allegations of belonging to a 'terrorist' organisation
A picture taken on 16 January 2022 shows the Correctional and Rehabilitation Centre in Badr city, 65 kms east of Cairo (AFP)

A prominent opposition activist in Egypt began a hunger strike on Sunday in protest at more than three years in detention, according to a rights group.

Walid Shawky, a member of the secular April 6 Movement, has been detained since 2018, accused of "belonging to a terrorist organisation," a charge routinely levelled at opposition activists in the country.

Though the 35-year-old dentist was ordered released after the end of the maximum two-year pre-trial detention period, he was never freed, instead having new charges of belonging to a "terrorist" group levelled against him.

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) added he was also accused of participating in anti-government demonstrations in 2020, despite having been in detention at that time.

'Catastrophic' rights record

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Egypt is thought to have more than 60,000 political prisoners and is regularly singled out for its human rights record, which Amnesty International has described as "catastrophic".

Rights groups have accused Egyptian authorities of maintaining a policy of medical negligence, torture, and ill-treatment of political prisoners, resulting in the death of 49 people in 2021. Six died in December.

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According to the Arab Organisation for Human Rights, the number of deaths in custody since July 2013 has reached 918.

President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi came to power after ousting his democratically elected predecessor Mohamed Morsi in a military coup in 2013.

Since then, Sisi has been accused by local and international rights groups of overseeing the country's worst crackdown on human rights in its modern history. 

Morsi himself suffered from poor health during his five years of detention, before collapsing in court and dying in June 2019. 

The UN high commissioner for human rights accused Egyptian authorities of "arbitrarily killing" the 67-year-old Morsi, who was kept in a "brutal condition" in Tora prison.

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