Lawyers and families of Egyptian political activists imprisoned for issues related to disturbing the country’s security, most notably belonging to a banned group or spreading false news, demanded their release after periods of pretrial detention that exceeded two years.
They have criticised the conditions of their imprisonment and the fact that it is complicated to visit. These calls coincide with International Human Rights Day.
Over the past week, the Egyptian authorities released a few hundred people who participated in rare demonstrations against Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in late September. The prosecution also ordered the release of the deputy leader of the Strong Egypt Party, Mohamed al-Qassas, amid human rights demands to release more activists, and then rearrested him.
The families of some of the imprisoned activists used social media to broadcast their complaints and appeals, criticising the continued imprisonment of their relatives, in light of the lack of serious steps towards changing their conditions.
The wife of the Egyptian activist Shadi al-Ghazali Harb broadcast a tragic video on Facebook recounting what she and her children are suffering because of her husband’s imprisonment for more than a year and a half on charges of spreading false news that would affect the national security of the country, and joining a group that was established contrary to the provisions of law and the constitution.
In the video clip, Dr. Fatima Murad complained that thousands of families are suffering, stating they are “without sin, except that they loved their country.”
“Whoever imagines the situation will continue like this. Is there a sane person who thinks that life will continue like this for the country in general or for the detainees and their families? Who can imagine this situation is easy, or [that the] humiliation of detainees and their families is good for Egypt?” Murad asked.
“Who wrote this life for us? … Do you think that no one will reach you? And if we are all silent, there is a God above all, especially with the prayers of the oppressed… everyone who participated in the crime of bulldozing the country, selling it, starving it, ignorance and disease will pay the price.”
Shadi is a medical school professor and political activist whose name was associated with the January revolution. He joined the Constitution Party founded by Mohamed ElBaradei for a period of time in May 2018.
Shadi was arrested for his opposition to al-Sisi after supporting the June 30, 2013 demonstrations that ended in the dismissal of the late President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood.
His wife said: “The thing that made me explode was the advice of people [that I stay silent] so that Shadi would not be harmed. I feel terrified because I am the only family for my children after him, but I have the right to express my pain. I may have touched on political matters, but I just wanted to scream and say how I feel.”
She pointed out that she lives between hope and anxiety after the video was broadcast, demanding the release of all detainees.
“The official authorities will respond that there are no detainees and tell them that pretrial detention is a legal arrest… the first question that [comes to] me when visiting Shadi in prison is: is it criminal or political?”
The court released Shadi a few months ago, but the Supreme State Security Prosecution (SSSP) appealed against the decision, and the court reimprisoned him.
Osama al-Ghazali Harb, one of Shadi’s uncles, demanded that President al-Sisi release him in a televised meeting last month, saying that he was never a member of the Brotherhood and held views opposed to them.
Osama al-Ghazali Harb is a political science professor appointed by al-Sisi years ago to head a presidential amnesty committee that specialises in raising the cases of political prisoners with the president and security agencies in preparation for decisions about who will be granted amnesty.
The Human Rights Committee in the Egyptian Parliament says that there are between 25,000 and 30,000 detainees in pretrial detention in Egypt, while human rights organisations, including the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, say in their estimates that there are more than 60,000 political prisoners in the country.
A few days ago, Al-Zahraa Mahmoud Hussein, the daughter of Al-Jazeera journalist Mahmoud Hussein, asked the Attorney General for an explanation about why her father had been incarcerated for nearly three years.
Al-Zahraa wrote on her Facebook page: “We are close to completing three years of oppression, arbitrary detention, and a court order to release and then [he was reimprisoned] before returning home. Our trips to Tora Prison have become a bitter routine, and what is the reason? Tell me, Mr. Attorney General?”
Hussein has repeatedly denied accusations leveled at him by the prosecution, of participating in a plan to create chaos in Egypt by broadcasting false news.
The authorities recently allowed Hussein to go out to the funeral of his deceased father and was then returned to prison.
Over the past 10 days, the SSSP released about 700 of those arrested following rare and limited demonstrations against al-Sisi in Tahrir Square and several other areas around the country.
An amendment to the Criminal Procedures Law, introduced in 2013, allowed for more than two years of pretrial detention, with the accused being renewed every 45 days, which sparked widespread human rights criticism.
A few days ago activists on social media started a virtual campaign to send solidarity messages by mail to those imprisoned in Egyptian prisons, and published the postal addresses of several Egyptian prisons.
Some of those involved in the campaign said that it aims to make the conditions of prisoners known and that they are not alone, and that their freedom is a priority.