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Egyptian poet attempts suicide in prison

Egyptian poet attempts suicide in prison
In this photo taken on Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014, an Arlington High School student ...   -  
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Steve Hamm/AP


A dissident Egyptian poet, Galal al-Behairy, in prison since 2018, attempted suicide four days after starting a new hunger strike, an association of writers which defends freedom of expression announced on Monday.

Galal al-Behairy "attempted suicide on September 9, four days after resuming his hunger strike to protest his prolonged arbitrary detention," said in a statement the organization PEN International, of which the poet is an honorary member.

"We are deeply concerned for his health and well-being and hold the Egyptian authorities fully responsible for his suicide attempt," the group added, without specifying how the poet attempted suicide.

Mr. Behairy was sentenced to three years in prison in 2018 for "insulting military authority", after publishing a series of satirical poems and writing the lyrics of a song critical of the government.

In 2021, when he was due to be released, the public prosecutor's office brought new charges against him for "belonging to a terrorist group and spreading false news".

In March, Galal al-Behairy began his first hunger strike to protest against his conditions of detention, in particular the fact that the authorities deprive him of paper and pens and limit his visiting rights to 20 minutes a month.

He began a new hunger strike on September 5 as he "began his sixth year in prison", according to the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms.

On the same day, he reached "the maximum duration for preventive detention", said PEN.

In 2020, Chadi Habache, the director of the video for the song written by Mr. Behairy, died at the age of 24 while in pre-trial detention. Human rights activists had denounced "grey areas" in the circumstances of his death.

In recent weeks, the Egyptian government has declared amnesties and released prisoners, in a move interpreted as an attempt to boost its image ahead of the presidential election scheduled for spring 2024.

But despite the release of almost a thousand political prisoners over the past year, NGOs claim that almost three times as many people have been arrested over the same period.

On Saturday, a court sentenced dissident Hisham Kassem, a potential presidential candidate and leader of Egypt's main liberal opposition movement, to six months in prison.

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