Following a week of reported torture allegations of the prisoners of Abu Zaabal prison, detained photojournalist Ahmed Gamal Ziada was able to give a new written letter to his mother who visited him Friday. These letters, his brother Mohamed claims, have been the source of his “misfortunes in jail”.
“I saw death. In order to be able to survive in prison, one must refrain from complaining, even if the cops put a stick up *****,” Ziada wrote in the letter, of which Daily News Egypt obtained a copy Saturday. The imprisoned photojournalist accounted for a week of “prisoners’ persecution” from 18 to 25 March.
Ziada said that prison guards stormed their cells on the morning of 18 March to search the detainees, stole and destroyed their belongings, then sent prison to disciplinary confinements, in which they are usually severely beaten. The “stolen” items include jackets, bed sheets, training suits, blankets, pillows, plates and water.
“The first student was punished because he protested against maltreatment. Then it was like the officers and conscripts declared war. They took another 12 students, and then it was just a random selection of one prisoner from each cell to scare off the rest,” Ziada said.
It was soon to become his turn, Ziada wrote. The police officers insulted him and beat him hard, sent him to disciplinary action for seven days, during which he started a second hunger strike. “Nobody cared, on the contrary they continued harassing and irritating me using their sticks,” Ziada wrote.
Ziada has been subject to abuse during his detention period, which by now exceeds 450 days. Last week, Ziada’s health condition deteriorated due to his abstinence from food and ill treatment. He suffocated and fainted.
“However, the prison doctor established a medical report that I was fine, and when I objected, he added to it that I verbally assaulted him. He had not examined me nor noted the beating marks on my body in his report,” Ziada said.
This is not the first time torture claims emerge from Abou Zaabal prison. On 24 March, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) along with nine human rights organisations issued a joint statement demanding immediate investigation and access to the prison.
The statement came in response to received information on alleged torture cases in Liman II of the prison (2nd ward of Abou Zaabal prison). “Masked formations of central security forces broke into the cells on 19March, aggressed prisoners with clubs, police dogs, and used tear gas resulting in injuries and fainting among political prisoners. Prison forces then took 15 prisoners from their cells, tortured them for three hours in front of the rest of the prisoners, stripping them of their clothes, forcing them to verbally abuse themselves and then transferred them to disciplinary solitary cells,” the statement read.
Human rights’ demands to visit prisons are usually rejected, with very rare exceptions for the state-affiliated National Council for Human Rights (NCHR). Nonetheless, Ziada accused them of ‘maintaining silence’ towards the situation. “Aren’t they responsible for my rights as a human? Aren’t they responsible for every detainee’s harsh punishment?” Ziada wrote.
One final thought occurred to Ziada as he wrote his letter. “How could human beings like himself have come up to build such inhuman detention cells?” he wrote, describing the “ridiculous” narrowness of the disciplinary cell.
Announcing the continuation of his hunger strike until properly examined and investigations opened into the torture of his colleagues, Ziada added that as a result of his “disruptive behaviour” as described by the police, he has been denied family visits for a month.
His mother last saw him Friday and there will be no upcoming visits for weeks. Ziada’s next trial session is due 1 April, in the ‘Al-Azhar University protest case’ along with 75 students.