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Imprisoned Egyptian politician suffers poor health, wife says

CAIRO, Egypt—Egypt's most prominent opposition politician, who was jailed after he came in second in 2005 in the country's first contested presidential election, has severe health problems that "inhumane" prison conditions have worsened, his wife said Tuesday.

Gamila Ismail, whose husband, Ayman Nour, is serving a five-year term that's outraged human rights advocates and U.S. officials, said Egyptian prosecutors even questioned him Sunday about possible new charges just before he underwent a heart procedure in Cairo.

Ismail said security forces had barred her from the hospital and from visiting with her husband before he was wheeled into the operating room for a cardiac catheterization, a fairly routine diagnostic test for patients with heart conditions that he originally was scheduled to undergo a year ago. Dozens of riot police were posted outside the Kasr el Aini government hospital during the procedure.

"They are trying to break his spirit," Ismail said by telephone from outside the hospital gates. "My husband told me, `I feel they want me to come out of prison crawling. I feel I will come out either handicapped or dead.'"

Investigators questioned Nour on five new allegations that included slander, keeping a pistol without a license and complaints about an article in his newspaper that was deemed "blasphemous," according to an official from Egypt's Prosecutor General's Office. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to release details to the news media.

The official also said he wasn't qualified to speak about Nour's medical condition or to address whether the questioning should have been delayed until he'd undergone the procedure and recovered.

Nour, who's now 42, was sentenced to five years in prison in December 2005 on forgery charges that he claims were fabricated and designed to eliminate him from political life after he challenged President Hosni Mubarak in last year's elections. Under Egyptian law, Nour is banned from resuming his law practice, returning to journalism or entering politics for at least six years after his conviction.

His trial drew heavy criticism internationally, and the United States has pressed Mubarak's government to release Nour and to introduce greater democratic reforms. Egypt is one of the United States' closest allies in the region and the recipient of $2 billion in U.S. aid every year.

Nour finished a distant second to Mubarak in the elections, the country's first multi-candidate elections.

Ismail said her husband was suffering from debilitating physical and psychological problems in the prison hospital, where he was being treated for diabetes, hypertension and heart troubles.

She said her husband generally was kept under 24-hour surveillance and not allowed to leave his bed or join Friday prayers with other prisoners. She said he'd told her that security forces frequently introduced him to political prisoners who'd been languishing in prison for decades, telling him that he'd face the same fate.

She said Nour had complained for months about inadequate medical treatment, including repeated incorrect dosages of medicine, which the family blamed for complicating his diabetes and causing bleeding in his eyes. He also described pain in his joints due to a lack of physical activity.

His heart condition worsened, Ismail said, after the delay of cardiac bypass surgery, originally scheduled for last January.

Nour has been banned from writing since April, though he's managed to smuggle letters out of the prison, Ismail said. She added that he's not allowed to receive reading material except for an occasional law book.

Prosecutors said three of the latest charges under consideration stemmed from an angry pro-government lawmaker and editor, Mustafa Bakri, who'd accused Nour of slander. Another possible charge comes from an unidentified Egyptian lawyer, who's accused Nour of insulting Islam in an article in the newspaper Ghad, the mouthpiece of Nour's party.

The fifth complaint refers to Nour's alleged failure to turn in a handgun that he kept at his home after his license for the weapon expired. Ismail said her husband had owned the gun for 10 years and that police confiscated it when he was arrested.

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(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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