Solidarity campaign over journalist Hesham Gaafar’s prison conditions

Journalists, bloggers and the family of Hesham Gaafar launched an online campaign Tuesday to demand better prison conditions for the detained journalist, whose health is slowly deteriorating.

The two-day campaign launched the hashtags: #FreeHeshamGafar and #FreeEgyptMedia in both Arabic and English.

Gaafar has been detained for 11 months in Tora’s maximum-security prison Al-Akrab, on charges of receiving an international bribe and belonging to an outlawed organization.

His family released a statement on Tuesday in which they said Gaafar is “suffering from a slow death, like many prisoners, without having committed any crime to deserve this pretrial detention, and this horrendous treatment to a serious journalist and researcher, who was a pioneer of online journalism in Egypt.”

Gaafar was arrested in October 2015 when security forces stormed the offices of the Mada Foundation for Media Development, which he heads. The foundation and its affiliated centers focus on offering media training and raising awareness of women’s issues and national unity. Gaafar was previously a cofounder of the news portal Islam Online.

Gaafar and three others detained in the same cell announced a hunger strike last month in protest over lack of access to medication and food. The other hunger-striking detainees are: former advisor to ousted President Mohamed Morsi Alaa Hamza, retired judge Mahmoud al-Khodairy and architect Mohamed Gomaa.

Manar al-Tantawy, Gaafar’s wife, said she learned of her husband’s referral to Qasr al-Ainy Hospital two days after he started his hunger strike.

Gaafar’s case was the first implementation of an amendment to Article 78 of the Penal Code, ratified by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in September 2014, making the receipt of foreign funding in any form “with the aim of pursuing acts harmful to national interests” punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Gaafar suffers from an enlarged prostate and optic nerve atrophy which the prison administration has repeatedly refused necessary surgery for, according to his family. At the recommendation of doctors, an appointment has been made at Manial Hospital three times for the operation, but Gaafar has not yet been transferred for this procedure due to “security concerns,” according to the prison administration. Gaafar was transferred to the detainee’s ward at Qasr al-Ainy Hospital as his health deteriorated.

The freedoms committee at the Journalists Syndicate issued a statement last month condemning the violations against Gaafar and his lack of access to medical treatment and recommending that he be referred to a private hospital as soon as possible.

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