Detainee Goes on Hunger Strike after Two Years’ Imprisonment for Writing Unpublished Theological Research Paper

Press Release

4 July 2005

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) today called for the immediate and unconditional release of Metwalli Ibrahim Metwalli Saleh, 51, who started a hunger strike on 11 June 2005 in protest against his continued detention despite an order for his release issued by the Prosecutor-General’s office nearly two years ago.

Metwalli was arrested at his home by the State Security Intelligence (SSI) department of the Interior Ministry on 18 May 2003, after two months of talks with SSI investigators following its officers’ chance discovery of his unpublished theological research.

Metwalli, who holds two BA degrees from Al-Azhar University in Islamic law and Arabic language, relied on his religious training to arrive at theological conclusions not to the liking of SSI officers, especially his use of the disciplines of linguistics and fiqh [Islamic theology] to refute two opinions, common among mainstream Muslim scholars: that it is a religious duty to kill ‘apostates’ who renege on Islam, and that a Muslim woman may not marry a non-Muslim man. SSI officers gave orders for his arrest after he sent copies of his research papers to a number of religious scholars as well as some embassies representing Islamic countries.

On 3 July 2003, after being detained unlawfully for nearly two months in SSI premises, Metwalli was referred to the State Security Prosecutor’s office, where he was charged with ‘contempt of the Islamic religion religion’ under the infamous Article 98(f) of the Penal Code. The case was registered under number 1086/2003 (supreme state security). Despite an order for Metwalli's release issued by the prosecution following the investigation on 29 October 2003, the Interior Ministry Interior decided to detain him under the Emergency Law.

Metwalli has since secured five rulings for his release from the Supreme State Security Emergency Court, the most recent of which was issued last week on 30 June 2005; however, as usual, the Ministry of the Interior refuses to implement them, instead issuing an new administrative detention order every time he is issued a verdict ordering his release.

Recent information obtained by the EIPR indicates that Metwalli initiated an indefinite hunger strike on  11 June, as part of a wider protest campaign organized by political prisoners in the Wadi El-Natroun prison. On Wednesday, 22 June, he was transferred to the prison hospital after his health deteriorated as a result of the hunger strike. Further information indicates that later, on 30 June, he was taken to Al-Wadi al-Gadid Prison, where he resumed his hunger strike.

“Not only did the Interior Ministry arrest an Azhar graduate because his religious beliefs and theological interpretations were not to its officers’ liking – they have been keeping him behind bars for over  two years, despite the prosecution’s order and numerous court rulings for his release, simply for exercising his right to freedom of belief and expression,” said Hossam Bahgat, Director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. The EIPR has also learned that SSI agents have started to harass Metwalli’s wife, who has been taking part in the sit-in currently held by the wives of political detainees at the Bar Association since 11 June. The most recent of these harassments took place on 28 June, when SSI agents stormed the Metwalli's home with no warrant, conducted an illegal search, confiscated a number of papers, and threatened the family’s 15-year-old son that his mother would be arrested if she did not stop participating in protests calling for her husband’s release.

The EIPR said it is holding the government responsible for the health and safety of Metwalli Ibrahim Metwalli Saleh, should he continue on his hunger strike in defense of his rights. The organization announced it will start a campaign to mobilize local and international efforts aimed at securing his release.