The Voice of Prison Cells in Egypt

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By: Mostafa Al-Naggar*

The rings of the handcuffs are striking against each other, clanking and making squeaks which are not only heard by the residents of prison cells alone, but they are echoing in all the corners of the nation, which has become a big prison for its children, besieging their dreams and dashing their hopes for a future in which the flags of freedom can flutter and man’s dignity can be preserved.

Both cynical and serious writers, as well as builders and even those suspected by the authorities to be (just) intending to oppose the government, are all imprisoned. Every day, when you wake up in the morning and read a newspaper, you often find that the names of your friend and your neighbor are on the lists of terrorists suddenly! Such people whom the government decided to stain with ‘terrorism’ and to describe as ‘too dangerous’, despite the fact that the most dangerous thing that your friend or your neighbor might have done in life was that he once crossed the street on a red traffic light!

Women are not excluded from harm as long as their voices blare out, calling for freedom. Behind the bars, there are hundreds of those girls and ladies whom the government has stained with terrorism, and accused of plotting against the universe, while those cute creatures would not dare to kill an ant or a cockroach if they found one in their homes!

As for children, we can see clearly their tragedy. According to the government’s charges directed against them, our children have turned to ‘dangerous leaders of mafia’, disrupting the running of trains, planning to undermine the achievements of the government, practicing terrorism, making explosives, and carrying out assassinations!! Of course, you will never believe such charges unless you imagine that you are watching a series for kids on a fantasy Kids TV Channel, talking about monsters and humans who turn to assassins and vampires, and drink the blood of humans.

There are real stories behind bars and inside prison cells that are even stranger than fiction. If the Egyptian movie makers had reviewed their cinema works that documented what happened of horrors inside the detention centers during the period of the sixties of the last century in Egypt, they would have discovered that what happened then, and they documented, was a kind of luxury, compared to what is happening now in Egypt, which is the hardest and the most unbelievable.

This lady was detained because she sought to recover street children from being lost, and returned them to the normal life through rehabilitation and development of their abilities to integrate with the society, which had discarded them, so that they could become good citizens, rather than to hate the society and take revenge on people. This girl detainee was frustrated over the justice system and once said to the investigator: “I do not find neutrality in my investigator, how can I trust his decision”. This young man was arrested only because he was wearing a T-Shirt with an inscription on it saying, “I Want to live on another planet”. That detainee has nothing to do with politics, but, like thousands of others, due to his bad luck, he fell in the hands of the police during their arbitrary arrest of citizens from the street. Then, he found that he was facing serious charges on a lawsuit against him; and all his crime was just walking on the street when the police kidnapped him and decided that he was a dangerous criminal!

This young man is a Christian citizen, but he is detained on charges of joining the Muslim Brotherhood!! That citizen was asleep in his home while he heard screams in the opposite apartment. When he opened his door out of a humanitarian motive to see what is happening and check on his neighbors, he found out that the police had come to arrest his neighbor. Not finding the neighbor, who was not at home at the time, the police turned to him, and he was arrested instead of his neighbor. Overnight, the poor young man found himself accused of joining an armed group that practices terrorism and sabotages the country!

Is there anyone who still insists on denying the issue of detainees or even justifying their arrest? Many pro-regime Facebook pages – not of the opponents’ – narrate personal tales about people they know well who were arrested and accused of imaginary charges that they have nothing to do with. Those are the supporters of the regime, what if the opponents recounted what happened to their loved ones and the people they know?

The widespread abuses and arrests in Egypt cannot be calculated precisely, but reading the report of the Al-Nadim Human Rights Center on the harvest of two years of the Egyptian regime’s violations, would arouse fear over the future of Egypt if oppression was not stopped. The report, which was published by the Al-Nadeem Center on its official Facebook page, reads, “This report is monitoring what Egypt witnessed of violations over the last two years, from June 8, 2014, to June 7, 2016, where there were 1083 killings: Six cases of them took place during the first six months from July 8, 2014, to December 31, 2014. This number increased in the following year to reach 326 killings from January 1, 2015, to December 31, 2015, and then the number doubled in the last six months up to 754 cases.

In addition, there were 239 deaths that occurred in the places of detention, 53 cases of which took place during the first six months from July 8, 2014, to December 31, 2014. This number increased up to 135 deaths during the following year, during the period from January 1, 2015, to December 31, 2015, and then reached 31 cases between January 1, 2016, and July 7, 2016.

Also, there were 915 deaths that were victims of torture in the places of detention – according to the report – including 78 cases that were monitored by the Al-Nadeem Center during the first six months, from July 8, 2014, to December 31, 2014. This number multiplied eerily in 2015 to reach 601 deaths during the period from January 2015 to December 31, 2015, as well as 236 cases from January 1, 2016, to June 7, 2016.

In addition to the cases of individual torture, there were several cases of mass torture amounting to 116 cases, including 35 cases during the period from June 8, 2014, to December 31, 2014, 37 cases in the period from January 1, 2015, to December 31, 2015, and the remaining 44 cases occurred during the period from January 1, 2016, to June 7, 2016.

The report also stated that there were 121 cases of disturbance and restriction against the prisoners and their families, including six cases during the period from July 8, 2014, to December 31, 2014, and 27 cases from January 1, 2015, to December 31, 2015.

Also according to the report, there were 597 cases of medical negligence in the places of detention, including 37 cases during the period from July 8, 2014, to December 31, 2014. This number increased to reach 310 cases from January 1 to December 31, 2015, and then reached 250 during the period from January 1 to July 7, 2016.

This is what Al- Nadim Human Rights Center has stated in its latest report. If we assume that the figures included in the report were not accurate, and that the violations that occurred only represented 50% of the total violations mentioned, this means that the violations of the regime have exceeded the violations experienced by Egypt during all the historical stages concerning the denial of human rights and crushing man’s dignity.

This is not a battle for authority, nor is it a kind of distorting and slandering the regime, as the regime has already been distorting itself. However, it is a cry of pain and an alarm bell for those who think that crushing man makes stability and pushes the country toward progress. Do not tell us that there are no political detainees in Egypt, as the new prisons which are being constructed day after another tell us everything about what is going on. The rumbling voice of cells demands the freedom for thousands of Egyptians who have not engaged in violence. Though they only expressed their opinions peacefully, they paid the price of the police’s random arrests, as well as the malicious reports and investigations that usually condemn the innocent people who have never committed a crime!

The release of political prisoners is an important step to open the public domain and prevent the blast factors. However, exaggerating the oppression, the pride of power, and the determination to crush the innocent people only leads to despair and calls for hatred and doubling societal discord. It is time for the cells to restore to Egypt its sons who cannot see the light. Freedom for all prisoners: whom we know and whom we do not know; whom we love and whom we may not like; whom we agree with and whom we disagree with. Freedom for man … Freedom for Egypt.

*Mostafa Al-Naggar is a major Egyptian opposition figure, a politician, a writer, with a special interest in human rights. He is also one of the iconic figures of the 25 January 2012 Revolution. Mostafa Al-Naggar received his bachelor’s degree in dentistry from Cairo University and then went on to study mass communication at the American University in Cairo (AUC). He also worked as a researcher on a project documenting social movements carried out by the political science department at AUC.

(This article was published in Arabi21 on Monday, June 20, and translated for MEO)