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Letters from prison

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A compilation of letters from detainees from the Al-Nadeem Centre for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture sheds light on worsening conditions in Egyptian prisons

Egyptian political activist Ahmed Doma smiles behind the bars of the accused dock during his trial on charges of taking part in an unauthorized protest on 15 June in Cairo, Egypt (AFP Photo / Khaled Desouki)

Egyptian political activist Ahmed Doma smiles behind the bars of the accused dock during his trial on charges of taking part in an unauthorized protest on 15 June in Cairo, Egypt
(AFP Photo / Khaled Desouki)

“We are the voice when you want to silence the world.”

Thus begins a compilation of letters written by detainees arrested in the last six months, quoting Egyptian poet Abdel Rahman Al-Abnoodi.

The Al-Nadeem Centre for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture collected more than 50 letters written by detainees for the publication, which was published online this week.

More than 40,000 people have been arrested in relation to political turmoil since the ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi last July, according independent counts. By relaying prisoners’ stories in a first-hand narrative, the collection of letters depicts the detainees as more than just a statistic.

While some detainees chose to send reassuring messages to their family and friends about their resilience, others could not help, when provided with a pen and paper, but detail the suffering they have faced since their arrest. The letters suggest appalling detention conditions, including routine torture, lack of sanitation, the proliferation of insects and recurring power cuts.

“And they wonder where the electricity problems are coming from! It’s only natural. If all electricity is channelled to state security to use on detainees,” wrote Mohamed Fawzy, a Mansoura University student, in his letter from prison. Fawzy’s letter is one of a number of letters highlighting the electrocution of detainees as a form of torture.

Ahmed Douma, prominent political activist and blogger, released his letter from prison on 2 April, after four months of detention. Douma was sentenced on 22 December to three years of hard labour and fined EGP 50,000 for violating the highly controversial Protest Law. He began a hunger strike on 26 December to protest his detention conditions.

Douma’s letter addresses his worsening health condition, beginning with his medical examination inside the prison’s hospital.

“The stomach pain is not because of what you eat, but because of what is eating you up,” Douma wrote in his letter.

Some detainees, such as poet Omar Hazek, have more than one letter featured in the publication. In his letters, Hazek narrates the small details shaping up his days behind bars, after being sentenced to two years in prison for taking part in a protest outside the trial of police officers implicated in the death of torture victim Khaled Said. The award-winning writer celebrates his work on a new novel during his incarceration, stating that his piece is almost complete.

The letters are, at times, intertwined, when one detainee begins speaking about another detainee. Hazek, in his second letter, commends the efforts of Sherif Farrag, who works hard to provide Hazek with proper lighting to work on his novel at night.

Farrag, an assistant lecturer at Alexandria University, was arrested from his home in Alexandria last November, facing the charge of belonging to a “banned” organisation, in reference to the Muslim Brotherhood. While Farrag’s first letter from prison focused mainly on all that which he was missing out on, we see Farrag’s priorities developing throughout the letters he continuously sends. His third letter focuses on his pillow, alongside a set of other items he has assembled to create a simple life for himself inside prison.

“The prison doesn’t kill you,” Farrag said. “It isn’t scary. The death of your beliefs within you, and your readiness to declare such beliefs, is what is scary. Then, you become imprisoned not between the evanescent prison walls but within the walls of your perishing bodies.”


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