A Prisoner Suffocating: My Experience in Egyptian Prisons

Monday 3 July 201712:10 am
#مسجون_مخنوق or #Suffocating_Prisoner. My throat dried up when I saw this hashtag. I could barely swallow the lump that had formed in my throat. The painful memories came back slamming my head, I felt like I was blindfolded again, with a black cloth around my head, taken back to the interrogation room. You are thrown in jail, without knowing your charge, and your guard takes great joy in fabricating new charges against you everyday, just so he can break your spirit. You start to remember the story of Joseph, when the pharaoh decided to imprison him for a woman. Such was my story, as if history insists on repeating itself, or maybe it is the genetic makeup of those who visit Egypt that promises them such bitter experiences at the hands of its Pharaoh. Here I want to recount to you some aspects of my experience in Egyptian prisons. I cannot cover all the verbal and physical violence I witnessed, because I no longer want to imagine the existence of such people who harbor all hatred possible to practice the sadism of torture. I cannot address this violence directly as I still carry the psychological and physical scars caused during this experience. [caption id="attachment_70498" align="aligncenter" width="700"]Picture from the press conference that the author had given after his release from prison Picture from the press conference that the author had given after his release from prison[/caption] The beginning On February 1st, I was arrested, or really "kidnapped", by the police at the annual Cairo International Book Fair. I did not understand what was happening, and could not comprehend their professional fabrication of charges against me, starting with plotting to overthrow the regime, to the propagation of fake news against the regime, receiving funds from foreign organizations, taking pictures without permission, and disrupting public order. This would not have happened if I had not asked for security men when a woman started to verbally assault me after seeing me interview one visitor about the type of books he had bought. It only takes one person to label you as an “Al Jazeera guy” before the “abiding citizens” take it upon themselves to beat you up and verbally-humiliate you, until the police arrives to finish their work! I do not work for Al Jazeera and I believe that an affiliation with any media establishment should not be a charge; the real crime is this crackdown on freedoms of thought and expression. Of course, I did not know it was all part of the plan. The woman had already got in touch with a relative of hers who was a police officer. He was the one to have taken me to file a report at the security checkpoint of the Book Fair. Once I got there, I went from being the assaulted party to being the offender, subjecting me to another bout of beatings and insults. This is all in result of the regime’s systematic campaign to brainwash the public into believing that there were spies in public places. Sword and Weld (Seif and Elhem) [caption id="attachment_70499" align="alignright" width="350"]"So we slept, 35 men in a matchbox of two square meters or less." "So we slept, 35 men in a matchbox of two square meters or less."[/caption] Seif (sword) in Egyptian prison is code for "sleep on your side" and elhem (weld) is code for "stick to whoever is next to you to allow more space." So we slept, 35 men in a matchbox of two square meters or less. We took turns to sleep, dividing the day into three periods. You attempt to find a pattern while trying to cohabitate with criminals, cultured youth, and terrorists all in one small room. Days pass by in detention, with all these painful memories. I can never forget what I had to go through while in the second branch of Nasr City police department, right after my arrest. Sometimes they would tell me I am an Al Jazeera correspondent, and other times they claim that I am taking photos of police dogs. Every time, they extend my time in detention, for no other purpose but to humiliate me. It was easy to go into psychological or mental shock due to the insults and strikes and kicks that can earn you a trip to the hospital. The psychological scars resulting from such experience are more difficult to heal, even over the years. I was not alone; there were many like me who received beatings and insults regularly. Perhaps the only thing that alleviated our suffering was our large number and our preoccupation with newcomers- as if it were a competition to fill prison cells with as many people as possible. I did not and will not forget the sounds of fists on the body of that lady. We couldn’t guess on what charges they had brought her in, but later we learned that she too was arrested at the book fair! That was Naim’a Rashid, the deputy editor-in-chief of El-Gomhoreya newspaper, known among journalists as Nora Rashid. They did not care for her job title and she was thrown into cell number 2 for women, her wailing and screaming never stopped. It is cruel to be hearing the screams of a woman getting beaten while standing helpless, unable of interfering. What is your charge? “Thinking” might be it!

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