CAIRO—More than 300 prisoners are staging a hunger strike in a Cairo prison to protest punishment beatings and other harsh treatment in detention, a day after an Egyptian-American dual citizen died in custody, opposition activists said.
U.S.-Egyptian dual national Moustafa Kassem, who was 54, died in prison on Monday after a long hunger strike. He had been held since 2013, on what he said were false charges of joining a protest, despite efforts by senior U.S. leaders to secure his release.
“His death in custody was needless, tragic, and avoidable,” said David Schenker, the State Department’s Assistant Secretary of Near Eastern Affairs, speaking to reporters in Washington Monday.
Mr. Kassem’s death and the ongoing hunger strike highlight what human rights groups say is a crisis of neglect inside Egypt’s prisons under President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi. Thousands of people have been arrested in a government effort to stamp out political dissent, with some of those detained in a recent wave of arrests saying they have been beaten, strangled and burned with cigarettes, The Wall Street Journal has reported. According Human Rights Watch, some prisoners are held in cells without beds and mattresses and have been denied medical treatment.
The striking prisoners are demanding an investigation into the death of another prisoner, journalist Mahmoud Abdel Majid Saleh, who died Jan. 5 after failing to receive adequate medical care despite his deteriorating health, according to activists. He was 47 years old. Prisoners are also demanding blankets, the ability to leave their cells once a day, and the right to family visits, the group said.