September 19 was the day I was supposed to see Walid in Tora Prison. It was to be my first visit in six months since prisons were locked down in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, during which time I had no news about him whatsoever. But fate, or the will of the National Security Agency, intervened. Walid received a release order on August 24, after nearly two years in remand detention.
My husband Walid Shawky, a dentist, was arrested in October 2018. He was detained for nearly two years awaiting trial in Case 621 on charges of spreading false news and joining a banned group, until he was ordered released in August. Although I fought the urge, I felt a glimmer of hope that I thought had been extinguished for good. Yet instead, I was thrust into another round of agony, absence, and fear.
A month after the release order was issued, it had still not been implemented and I didn’t know where my husband was. Was he alive or, God forbid, hurt? Was he in good health or was he sick? Did he need medicine or clean clothes? I didn’t know anything. It felt like a punishment for some unknown crime. I hadn’t seen him for six months and there had been no news of him, or of any prisoner, since visits were suspended due to the pandemic. When the prisons were reopened, visits were scheduled based on alphabetical order and mine was set for September 19. But I was denied that visit too.
When news of the release order came, I felt a rush of conflicted emotions: joy, fear, anxiety. I couldn’t believe he would be out and I would see him. I couldn’t imagine any other scenario, like being rotated back into prison on charges in a new case. I told myself it would be two weeks at most and he would be back home. I never imagined that more than a month later, he still wouldn’t be with us. Or worse, that we wouldn’t know where he was.
Walid was released and transferred from prison to the Khalifa lockup and from there to the Dakarnas police station in Daqahliya, where his residence is listed, all in line with normal release procedures. The next day he was moved to a National Security office for questioning and release — that’s what an officer at the Dakarnas station told us on September 2. After that, I received no news of the whereabouts or fate of my husband. Would he be released? Or would he be charged in a new case?
My three-year-old daughter, Nour, is awaiting her father’s return. When the release order was handed down, I began preparing her for it on the advice of a psychologist, who said she should be told that her father was coming and would bring toys, so she would be ready to greet him. She’s waiting with me, but now I don’t know how to answer when she asks, “When’s daddy coming?” I don’t know when he’s coming.
The search for Walid began when he disappeared from the police station. I started to look in various police stations in Daqahliya. Maybe they took him there after questioning at the National Security office? I went to the Prisons Authority in Cairo to ask whether he had been returned to prison. I found nothing and received no answer. At the Prisons Authority, a man at the door — I don’t know his rank — asked me why I was there while he inspected my ID. I told him I’d come to inquire about the whereabouts of my husband, a political prisoner. “How long has he been gone?” he asked. “Two years,” I said. After a long look, he told me, “He’s probably at State Security. Take my number instead of coming all this way again and I’ll find out where he is.” I asked him to write down his mobile number on a piece of paper because I didn’t bring my phone.
To tell the truth, I’m tired of this routine encounter — when someone sees me alone and knows my story, and then his tone changes as he asks for my phone number. I’m sick and tired of neighbors asking when my husband will return from his trip. I’m tired of the disavowal and fear I see in people’s eyes when they learn the truth, and of asking them not to repeat it, as if I’m an accused murderer or a fugitive on the run.
I never thought my visits to Tora Prison Complex would seem like heaven in retrospect. At least I knew where he was. I could see him and bring him food and money. Now I don’t know where he is, whether he’s healthy or sick. I ask myself: Why have we — his child and I — been denied his presence all this time? Why would he receive a release order only to disappear again? Why all this animosity, as if someone is exacting some personal revenge? Why does it get worse? After the exhaustion, mistreatment, transfer to different places, and disappearance, he could be charged in a new case. Why didn’t they just leave him in prison where he was?
Every day the walls of my home close in tighter and tighter, strangling me with memories and hopes. I feel like they’re going to crush me. Every day I pray and ask God to give me a sign that He hears me and my prayers. I tell Him I don’t need a miracle. I’m not asking for a cure for the virus or an end to war. I have one simple request: let the court order be implemented. Release a prisoner who has been held for two years pending trial, was denied visits and contracted the coronavirus, who was denied his daughter, his family, and his job. Isn’t that enough? I think about what my husband is eating and how he’s sleeping. How has he spent more than a month in the same clothes? I wonder where he is now, and what he’s doing and thinking. After this experience, will he come out intact, mentally and psychologically? Questions without answers plague me day and night. It’s like a nightmare from which I cannot awaken.
On October 6, nearly six weeks after Walid’s release order, the lawyer called to tell me that Walid had been rotated back into the system in a new case, the same case that is pending for Ayman and Sayyed. The charges are publishing false news, misusing social media, and participating in an assembly. The lawyer tells me that according to the new case file, Walid was arrested just one day earlier while participating in an assembly near his home.
After we hang up, I wonder: Why all this torture? Do we deserve this new case? Does my husband deserve to be separated from his daughter and me? Do his mother and I deserve to be denied his presence? A voice within me responds: No, we do not deserve all this torture.