Egypt: Illegally imprisoned without trial, Shady Habash’s death underscores the urgency of releasing pretrial detainees

In Egypt /Road Map Program, Statements and Position Papers by CIHRS

The undersigned rights organizations reiterate our demand for the immediate release of persons held in pretrial detention, especially prisoners of conscience. 24- year-old director and filmmaker Shady Habash died on May 2nd  in Cairo’s Tora Prison as he was being illegally held in pre-trial detention for over 26 months by Egypt’s Public Prosecution.  The young filmmaker’s death will not be the last, so long as the Egyptian government continues to ignore increasing calls from within Egypt and internationally to release prisoners in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, especially those held in pretrial detention or at risk of medical neglect.

Shady Habash’s death was the third in ten months among prisoners of conscience in Tora Prison’s cellblock 4 (he was preceded by Mustafa Kassem and Omar Adel, 29), and is a glaring indictment of Egypt’s justice system, which has, over the past seven years,  routinely deployed pretrial detention and medical neglect to retaliate against  critics or opponents of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s government. For over several hours, Shady’s cellmates desperately tried to summon medical help but were ignored by prison officials. Such wanton cruelty is hardly exceptional, prisoners of conscience are often left to die in prison by Egypt’s Public Prosecution without trial or due process, in appalling conditions that include the deliberate withholding of healthcare.[1]

In this context, we the undersigned organizations hold the Egyptian authorities responsible for the mental and physical health of the ten other detainees held in cellblock 4 of Tora Prison, whom have now witnessed the third death of an inmate in their cellblock without any action taken by prison officials. Some of these detainees, including Hassan al-Banna Mubarak and Mustafa al-Aaser have been held beyond the two-year legal limit of pretrial detention and therefore must be immediately released.

The death of Shady Habash is yet another harrowing reminder of the wasted futures and talents of Egypt’s creative class; artists, directors, writers, poets, publishers, bloggers and others who exercise their right to free expression are often prosecuted, imprisoned or forcibly disappeared.  Some are released on strict probation and/or after a lengthy period of confinement. Mustafa Gamal, a social media administrator, has also been held illegally by the Public Prosecution for over two years in the same case as Shady Habash (case no. 480 of 2018), prosecuted over a satirical song deemed by state security as defamatory to Egyptian President al-Sisi; seven people allegedly involved in producing the song were arrested.

The lives of many other prisoners of conscience will remain at severe risk unless pre-trial detainees are immediately released. Satirist and blogger  Shady Abu Zeid remains in prison pending trial on charges of joining a terrorist group and publishing false news (case no. 1956 of 2019), after being re-arrested  following his February 4th  release. He had already been held for 18 months in pretrial detention under the prosecution of another case (no. 621 of 2018) related to a satirical video.

Blogger and satirist Shady Surour, 25 has been detained since December in connection with case no. 488 of 2019. Theatre actor and ballet dancer Omar Hanafy, 23, is detained in the same case, on charges of joining a terrorist group and publishing false news on social media.  Researcher and writer Ayman Abdel Moati , the director of distribution at Dar Maraya Publishers, has been held since his arrest on October 18th  2018, pending trial in case no. 621 of 2018. Author and publisher Khaled Lutfi 27, the founder of the Tanmia Bookstore and Publishers, is serving a five-year sentence following a military trial for translating and publishing a book.

Signatory Organizations

  • Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
  • Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
  • Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression
  • Belady Center for Rights and Freedoms
  • Committee for Justice
  • Egyptian Front for Human Rights
  • Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms
  • The Freedom Initiative
  • Nadeem Center for Torture Victims

[1] According to a joint rights report released at the end of last year, 449 prisoners died from June 2014 to the end of 2018. That number has increased to 917 (from June 2013 to November 2019) with the stark increase in 2019, according to the latest update. These numbers include 677 prisoners who died of medical neglect.

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