Egyptian opposition figure Hisham Kassem starts hunger strike

Egyptian opposition figure Hisham Kassem has initiated a hunger strike as he faces trial on charges of slander and verbal assault, as reported by his attorney on Saturday.

The publisher was initially charged last month with slandering a former minister. Subsequently, he was also accused of verbally assaulting officers at a police station after being detained, allegations that his supporters claim are politically motivated.

Kassem, the former publisher of Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper, was detained following his outspoken criticisms of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. He also established a liberal coalition named “al-Tayar al-Hurr,” or the Free Current Movement, which has expressed the possibility of presenting a candidate in forthcoming elections.

Although economic difficulties have generated some discontent among a segment of Egyptians, the coalition is not perceived as a significant challenge to Sisi, who is anticipated to seek a third term in the upcoming early-year elections.

Kassem made a courtroom appearance while in custody on Saturday, where his trial, along with his defense team’s requests for bail and access to case documents, was adjourned until September 9, according to the state news agency MENA.

Kassem appeared “very tired”, lawyer Nasser Amin said.

Earlier this week, members of the Free Current Movement asserted that the charges against Kassem were politically motivated and called for the replacement of President Sisi.

Under Sisi’s leadership, Egypt has intensified its suppression of political dissent, a trend that began after he played a prominent role in the 2013 removal of Mohammed Morsi from the Muslim Brotherhood. His regime has apprehended tens of thousands of individuals, including notable opposition figures from previous electoral contests.

The government says the arrests were on national security grounds.

In recent years, the government has made efforts to address concerns related to freedom and human rights. This includes initiating a “national dialogue” with civil society leaders and providing amnesty to certain high-profile detainees.

Critics have dismissed these actions as superficial, asserting that arrests have persisted.

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