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Court renews imprisonment of journalist for 45 days despite expiry of pretrial detention limit

A Cairo court has renewed journalist Hesham Gaafar’s detention period for an additional 45 days, despite surpassing the limit for pretrial detention decreed in article 143 of Egypt’s Penal Code.

Following the verdict, Gaafar’s wife, Manar al-Tantawy announced on her Facebook page that the journalist will start an open hunger strike and refrain from taking medications to protest his continued detention against the law.

Article 143 specifies that pretrial detention should not exceed two-thirds of the mandated prison sentence based on the charges the defendant is facing, which in Gaafar’s case is two years. He completed the two years on October 21.

However, other courts have used Article 380 of the Penal Code to argue that they have complete liberty to extend pretrial detention indefinitely.

Karim Abdel Rady, Gaafar’s lawyer, told Mada Masr that he submitted a request to the prosecution on Monday, October 23 asking for his release.

Gaafar was arrested on October 21, 2015, when security forces stormed the office of Mada Foundation for Media Development, of which he is CEO. He is now detained in al-Aqrab Prison, a maximum security facility, on charges of “international bribery” and “belonging to an outlawed group.”

Gaafar’s case is the first application of an amendment to Article 78 of the Penal Code, which was decreed by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in September 2014, criminalizing the receipt of foreign funds in any form “with the aim of pursuing acts harmful to national interests, an equivalent to that or other.” If found guilty, Gaafar faces 15 years in prison as per the amended article.

Rights institutions as well as Gaafar’s family have previously said his health is deteriorating due to medical negligence that caused a pre-existing eye condition, which results in the weakening of the optic nerve, to worsen in prison. Gaafar also suffers from an enlarged prostate.

Tantawy had previously told Human Rights Watch that authorities occasionally allowed her to take in vitamins that can help prevent Gaafar’s eyesight from worsening, after their entry into prison was completely banned during the first two months of his detention. She also said that authorities only gave Gaafar his eyeglasses months after his arrest, adding that being detained in a dark cell has also taken its toll on his health. In 2016, Gaafar was transferred to Qasr al-Ainy hospital for five months, where he received limited medical attention before being taken back to al-Aqrab Prison, according to his wife.

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