Hunger strike protest in Egypt

On the eve of a key election, more than 100 being held began the action.

Posted: May 21, 2012

CAIRO - More than 100 Egyptians held since a mass arrest more than two weeks ago began an open-ended hunger strike Sunday to protest their continued detention and the possibility they will face military prosecution, activists said.

Hundreds of activists outside prison including a presidential candidate meanwhile held a symbolic 24-hour strike in support of the group and against the military trials of civilians.

The protest comes on the eve of presidential elections that are supposed to lead to Egypt's ruling military council stepping down in favor of a civilian government - but also amid rising fears that the generals will continue to transfer civilians to military tribunals after the transition. The military is suspected of trying to retain considerable power past the handover.

The military says that the courts are essential to keeping order in the turbulent aftermath of the 2011 toppling of Hosni Mubarak in a popular uprising. Its critics say the tribunals are used to suppress dissent, and human rights groups say they are a violation of international law.

On Sunday, activists, journalists and others gathered at the Journalists Union in Cairo to show support for more than 300 detained in a sweeping roundup by the military following a violent protest earlier this month outside the Ministry of Defense in which one soldier was killed. The mass arrest and referral to military prosecution was the largest since Mubarak's overthrow.

The day before, the New York-based Human Rights Watch said the detainees were beaten and tortured. "Military officers have no sense of limits on what they can do," the group said.

An estimated 11,000 civilians have been sent before military tribunals since Mubarak's fall. The issue has become a major point of conflict between the ruling generals who took over from Mubarak and the youth revolutionary groups who led the uprising against him.

So far, 141 detainees started to hunger strike on Sunday, said Salma Abdel-Gelil, an activist organizing the solidarity protest.

She said another detainee had refused food since a day after his May 4 arrest, and that activists were worried about his health.

"The detainees will continue their hunger strike until their demands are met," said Abdel-Gelil.

The detainees want to be released and not be referred to military trials.Khaled Ali, 40, a presidential candidate who represents to many the face of the youth movement, said he is joining the 24-hour strike.

Ali is the youngest of 13 candidates making a bid for Egypt's top job. The race begins May 23-24 and Sunday is last day of campaigning.

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