Egyptian activist and former political detainee Mohamed Soltan has rejected suggestions that his release from prison was due to his American citizenship. He claims that his prolonged fight and hunger-strike that went on for 490 days was the principal reason behind his freedom. This, he said, was in addition to a major campaign of solidarity led by human rights activists and civil society organisations in Egypt and the United States. He pointed out that there were six American citizens, other non-Egyptians and citizens of various other nationalities who were still detained in Egyptian jails.
In the second part of the Al-Jazeera “Without Borders” program on 15/6/2016 that hosted Soltan on the first anniversary of his release from the military regime’s prisons in Egypt, Soltan said that there were around 60,000 detainees in the regime’s prisons who deserved to be defended through international media and legal campaigns, with an aim to prosecute this regime. He believes that international organisations should exert pressure using creative ideas to achieve this goal.
Soltan recounted that the thought of protesting through hunger strikes was formulated in his mind when he was detained in the cell of the State Security Prosecution in the Fifth District during October, 2013. This was in protest against the renewal of his pre-trial detention after he realised that there was no option other than resisting prison pro-actively.
He said that he began to study the concept of hunger strikes and read about several experiences of people who had adopted this path in Ireland and Palestine. He physically began to prepare for the strike by cutting down on his diet and he teamed up with his sister Hana to launch a social media campaign titled #FreeSoltan.
On January 26, 2014, Soltan began the hunger strike along with Samhy Mustafa and Mohamed al-Adly but the latter two ended their strikes early due to family pressure while he continued with his. He said that initially, his strike had no impact at all because the prison administration completely ignored this matter since they did not have any protocol in place to deal with such strikes.
Pressure by prison authorities to end the strike began to pile up after two months. He met his father in the office of the Tora Prison’s warden. His father had been especially brought from his cell in Aqrab (Scorpion) Prison to dissuade his son from continuing the strike. Soltan pointed out that he saw his father for the first time in seven months. “I told him that I do not intend to commit suicide, rather it is my way of resisting the injustice,” he said.
Soltan said: “As a result of this, they transferred my father to my cell in Liman Tora Prison so that he would be responsible for my care after he was forced to sign a paper that burdened him with the responsibility of my well-being. He stayed with me for eight months during which he saved my life nine times. Whenever I went into a diabetic coma, he used to place sugar under my tongue and keep me alive until the doctors arrived.”
Describing the most difficult stage of his strike, Soltan said that he was transferred to solitary confinement in an isolated bathroom of the infirmary forcing him to discontinue a total hunger strike and resort to a partial strike in order to protect his life. During that time, he was subjected to psychological torture and all his personal belongings like clothes, pens, personal diaries, watches etc. were taken away from him. The effect was so intense that he reached a stage where he used to bang his head against the wall.
He said that officers used to throw razors from beneath the bathroom’s door and insert live electric wires. They used to encourage him to commit suicide either by electrocuting himself or by cutting his arteries. Despite facing severe frustration during that time, his inner stubbornness – as he says – helped him to survive the terror of prison authorities.
Furthermore, Soltan said that when he refused the medical treatments offered by prison officers, Brigadier Mohamed Ali cuffed him despite his worsening health condition and took him to the office of the Chief Detective in the Liman Tora Prison where he was repeatedly beaten on his face, compelling him to accede to their demands of a medical check-up. They threatened him saying that the Brotherhood and Americans are out to kill him due to the exploitation of his case and it is only the prison authorities who wish to save him.
He concluded by saying, “On May 30, 2015, one soldier opened the bathroom door and took me to a transport van. When I came out of the van I found myself at the airport. But after returning to America, I could not sleep for three nights because I used to fear that I would wake up and find myself in prison again.”
Watch the full interview with subtitles here: