Sobbing sounds fill the dark room, as the young man addresses his daughter.
“I did it for you, so I can see you walking for the first time,” he says. He walks on the stage to join six other performers who tell the “Stories of Empty Stomachs”.
In a theatre production organised by Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies’ (CIHRS) Alumni Club in the AUC’s The Greek Campus, a group of volunteer performers presented true stories of detainees on hunger strike to protest against their “inhumane treatment” in prison.
Stories were collected from letters of hunger strikers to their families, letters they managed to published online and video statements, said Mona Nader, CIHRS media officer.
Since the military ouster of former president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013, Egyptian security forces have arrested at least 41,000 people, according to the online database WikiThawra.
Over a hundred detainees are on hunger strike, with 1,081 people also on hunger strike in solidarity with “prisoners and detainees of conscience” in the country, according to the Freedom for the Brave.
The performance reflects a human element, which is absent in most discussions about hunger strikers, Nader said. Whether the detainees were charged or not, and regardless of their political affiliations, violations to their “right to procedures of a fair trial” are not justified.
“It’s a right of any prisoner to receive non humiliating treatment,” she said.
Stories portray the hunger strikers’ experiences with torture, humiliation and other attempts “to break their willpower”, such as threats of being subjected to virginity tests.
The performance included testimonies of journalists, field medics, activists, students, demonstrators and bystanders who happened to be around the clashes and got arrested. The show dramatises the struggle of detainees who have been awaiting their trials for months, as well as the pain their families experience.
One story depicts the experience of a young man who was randomly arrested without even taking part in any protests. The detainee, who has awaited his trial for five months, could not tell the difference between day and night, since no sunlight enters his cell.
Some detainees had no affiliation with any political movements, according to the show.
“Do you know Sayed Kotb?” a detainee asks his cell mate about a famous Muslim Brotherhood leader. “I am not following modern music,” the cell mate replies.
Another story is about a photojournalist, who was detained for nine months with no charges. After he decided to go on hunger strike, the prison administration tried to convince him that hunger strike is prohibited in Islam, as it is a form of suicide, the performer said.
“The simplest right of a man is to say that he’s oppressed, when he feels that he’s oppressed,” he says, “I am on hunger strike so I can live, not die.”