CAIRO: Feelings were high among the large group of activists and journalists gathered outside El Dhaher police station on Saturday night, awaiting the release of the 21 activists arrested during Thursday night’s Kefaya protest in Downtown Cairo.
“We have been waiting here patiently since yesterday when we found out that the General Prosecutor ordered the release of the detained activists within 24 hours. There have even been talks about holding a demonstration if they aren’t released soon, Wael Abbas, photojournalist and blogger told The Daily Star Egypt.
As the clock ticked towards 6 pm and dusk started to hover above the city, a group of chief police officers appeared before the anxious crowd announcing that the detainees were to be released ‘two at a time’ to keep the situation ‘under control’.
“Move onto the side streets and make way. Yalla everybody! a police officer shouted while gesticulating at smiling journalists and activists armed with cameras and cell phones.
One of the first detainees able to breathe fresh air and enjoy his newly won freedom was smiling Kefaya activist Ahmed Abu Steit.
“Down with Hosni Mubarak! Refuse the proposed constitutional amendments that limit the freedom of the Egyptian people! Steit shouted in a crackled voice while marching down the street proudly holding up a Kefaya sticker.
“I am fine, but tired. There were ten of us sleeping in a tiny cell for two nights. We even started a hunger strike today at noon, but the police officers refused to document it, Steit told The Daily Star Egypt.
While the activists reportedly experienced harsh conditions under detention, the released protestors emphasized that ‘no one was beaten or abused’.
“Fourteen of us were released a few hours following the arrests, including all female detainees. Twenty-one activists, all men, were kept here at El Dhaher station since Thursday night, Steit continued while hugging friends and fellow activists around him.
Charged with ‘insulting the President, ‘disrupting the public order’, and ‘hindering traffic’, 35 male and female members of a wide range of opposition parties and activist groups, including Kefaya, Al Ghad party, Tagammu, and the Revolutionary Socialists, were arrested and detained in Thursday’s violent Kefaya protest in downtown Cairo.
Ahmed Helmy, a lawyer at the Hisham Mubarak Center for Legal Aid, represented the detainees.
“Everyone will be released now, but the case is still open for further investigation. The activists were taken in during the demonstration for shouting anti-Mubarak slogans and disrupting traffic in the crowded areas of Downtown, Helmy told The Daily Star Egypt.
According to a journalist who preferred to remain anonymous, the activists were kept in detention for a significant amount of time without any official documentation or notification.
“This is very dangerous and completely against the law. If something had happened to the detainees in prison, no one would have been able to prove that they were harmed or even under arrest. This must not happen again, the journalist stressed.
According to Khalid Abdel Hamid, a detainee belonging to The Revolutionary Socialists, the detained protestors were kept in cells with just enough space for everyone to sleep on their sides.
“It was exhausting. They locked all of us up in two small cells, which made us feel like animals. However, friends and members of Kefaya brought us food and necessities which ameliorated our situation, Abdel-Hamid said in an interview with The Daily Star Egypt.
Despite yesterday’s upbeat atmosphere, activists warn for increased government crackdowns and arrests in the near future.
“If they took us in on Thursday for participating in a public demonstration, I am sure there will be more arrests on April 4 at the Kefaya protest against the new constitutional amendments, Abu Steit said.