‘Does anyone know why we’re here?’: A letter from a journalist in pretrial detention

Mada Masr publishes a letter from journalist Hamdy Mokhtar Ali, also known as Hamdy al-Zaeem, who has been held in pretrial detention at Tora Prison since September 2016.

Police arrested Zaeem, who was working as a correspondent for London-based Al-Hayat newspaper and Al-Balad news website, and two other journalists from the vicinity of the Journalists Syndicate in downtown Cairo on September 26, 2016, while they were filming a report. They were taken to the nearby Qasr al-Nil Police Station.

The three journalists were physically assaulted by police and barred from communicating with their lawyers before they were taken to the central Cairo prosecution, where they were given a 15-day detention order pending investigations, according to the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE).

Prosecutors accused the journalists of being members of a terrorist organization, promoting false news, undermining national unity and societal peace and calling for protests without permission.

In January 2017, the central Cairo prosecution referred the journalists to the State Security Prosecution for further investigations. Prosecutors have remanded the three in detention for a total of 16 months without referring them to trial.

On March 10, a judge is set rule on whether to renew Zaeem’s detention or release him until the prosecution decides if the case will go to trial.

Hamdy al-Zaeem’s letter

To whom it may concern:

The situation will continue as is until further notice: the renewal of our detention for another 45 days. We have now been in pretrial detention for almost a year and a half with no evidence or proof of the charges leveled against us, only vague accusations.

Sixteen months and the renewal order was issued with a mere stroke of the pen and without any convincing reason, other than that you were working in journalism, carrying a pen and a camera. This is the pretext for your arrest, and for subjecting you to a vicious cycle of accusations and detention renewals alongside the thousands of others in pretrial detention, each of whom has their individual story, but who all share the injustice laid upon them.

Countless numbers of wrongfully accused people have entered prison. They have different intellectual beliefs and come from various backgrounds, but injustice unites them.

An April 6 Youth Movement member, a socialist, a liberal, a Muslim Brotherhood member; the names vary but the injustice is the same. They differed from each other outside and each was partial to his ideas, his vision. But here it is different. Here, you find them sharing bread, grief and joy.

The prison warden united them, which wouldn’t have happened unless everyone was included in the same suffering.

They agree, although they were the ones who differed outside prison. An agreement that wouldn’t have come about without the state of injustice they share.

Everyone puts their differences aside and listens to those around them. We are possessed by memories of January, when we stood shoulder to shoulder without difference, so alike that the person by your side didn’t know your ideology. Our objective came before it all.

Here, January is present.

We don’t say they have reconciled, as they were never in dispute. They were different.

Within the cells, they are friends and comrades waiting for everyone outside to come to an agreement, as they have inside.

I am now awaiting the renewal of my detention, as we all wait for you to shed your differences.

In the end, the important question is: Does anyone know why we’re here?

It is a question I am seeking an answer to.

Hamdy Mokhtar

Tora Prision

January 29, 2018


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