Released prisoners advocate for those they left behind

Several recently released prisoners, their families and lawyers asserted on Tuesday that they would continue to fight for the freedom of thousands of others still detained in Egypt’s prisons as a result of random arrests and bogus trials.


In a press conference at the Freedom and Bread Party’s headquarters, which is still under construction, released detainees spoke of inhumane conditions, and lawyers highlighted the cases of a number of prisoners they claim have been unjustly detained.


They vowed to form a united front to work for the release of all political prisoners and rejected several recently passed laws that they say limit personal freedoms.


President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi issued a pardon for 100 prisoners last month on the occasion of Eid al-Adha. Two Al Jazeera journalists, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed, were among those released, as well as human rights defenders Sanaa Seif and Yara Sallam.


Laila Soueif, whose daughter Sanaa Seif was released, while her son Alaa Abd El Fattah remains incarcerated, said thousands remain in prison as a result of forced disappearances, random arrests and faulty judicial procedures, asserting that giving 100 prisoners their freedom does not solve the problem.


Those highlighted during Tuesday’s press conference included Mahienour al-Massry and Loay al-Qahwagy in the Khaled Said case, and Alaa Abd El Fattah and Ahmed Abdel Rahman in the Shura Council case.


Lawyer Sarah Rabea highlighted the case of Abdel Rahman specifically, who she said was arrested while attempting to protect women from being assaulted by police officers dispersing a protest, as he was passing by on his way to work. Rabea claimed Abdel Rahman has been subjected to mistreatment and his visitation rights have been frequently taken away.


Mohamed Hosni, among those released in the Shura Council case, spoke of many injustices he witnessed in prison. He commented that political detainees are sometimes in better positions than those incarcerated on criminal charges, especially if they have the backing of groups and organizations. “Several of them told me they can’t speak up, because they don’t have anyone to support them and would be tortured if they did,” Hosni said.


Inmates are also aware, he added, that a tip from a fellow detainee that they are taking drugs is enough to subject them to severe torture and humiliation from prison guards, including forcing them to defecate and throw up.


Many of those imprisoned have endured prolonged periods of detention without trial.


Mahmoud Yehia, who was also released in the Shura Council case, asked, “Why was I released? What is the criteria for justice?” Referring to all those he left behind. 


Yehia recounted that during his final days in prison, he and his fellow inmates were not allowed their allocated hour outside their cells.


Detainees also highlighted the suffering of their families, claiming visitation rights were often withheld at random and supplies not allowed in. Yehia said his mother spent a night in Maadi police station, because she had brought him pastries to help him manage his diabetes, and officers refused to pass them on.


Lawyer Fatema Serag said the Cabinet case, in which activist Ahmed Douma and 268 others were sentenced to life in prison, is one of the largest cases and was completely overlooked in the pardon. Some 86 defendants who were present in court were sent to Al-Akrab maximum-security prison in the Tora Prison complex, which is notorious for human rights violations.


Serag added that the appeal process is also flawed, as the sentences of those who appeal are often increased on charges of insulting the judiciary.


Journalists Syndicate board member Khaled al-Balshy maintained there are more than 30 journalists currently in prison on trumped up charges, which enables the government to claim they are not being withheld on charges related to journalism, even though he said they are routinely picked up while working and intimidated.


Akram Ismail, a leading member of the new detainee solidarity group said the reason for the selective pardons is obvious. “It’s because they have a vision, it’s part of the systematic targeting of everything in society that’s alive and has the capability to act and carry a set of principles.”


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