Two years and two months, or 790 difficult days, endless hours behind bars, dreams of freedom and hopes for the future crushed.
There is still no clear reason why young detainees Mahmoud Mohamed Hussein and Islam Talaat have been kept in prison for so long without ever being referred to trial.
Even today, Hussein himself wonders how the decision to go out wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the words “a nation without torture” could possibly have resulted in such life-changing circumstances, according to his brother Tarek ‘Tito’.
Hussein certainly never anticipated one day being famous and known as the ‘anti-torture T-shirt detainee’, just as he did not expect to be denied justice, repeatedly.
Every time Hussein was supposed to stand in court before a judge to look into his detention, prison authorities failed to transfer him to court, resulting in prolonged detention. The Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) counted more than 20 occurrences of that type, in addition to continued rejection of lawyers’ demands for his release.
According to the case lawyers, it is an unquestionable breach of the law that the detention of Hussein and Talaat has been continuously extended.
The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) explained that Article 143 of the Criminal Codes Procedures clearly states that no person may be held in custody pending investigation or trial for more than two years. This in connection with charges carrying a life sentence or death.
The young men were arrested on 25 January 2014. Their detention automatically expired on 25 January 2016, as per the law. “Yet, we are on the 60th day of unlawful detention,” defence lawyer Taher Aboul Nasr told Daily News Egypt Wednesday.
What made matters worse for the detainees and their families was what followed a decision issued Tuesday evening by the Cairo Criminal Court, finally granting Hussein and Talaat a release on a bail of EGP 1,000 each.
Sadly, their rejoicing was cut short. The prosecution authority immediately appealed against the court’s decision.
“I don’t think there is anything worse than an entire family being in seventh heaven after injustice has finally been lifted off their young boy, to then fall into hell due to a piece of paper sent by the prosecution,” Tito commented on his public Facebook profile, following more than six hours of waiting outside court to know the fate of his younger brother.
Although lawyers recognised the prosecution’s legal right to challenge the court’s decision, they viewed it as nothing more than an attempt to keep the detainees in custody for a longer period.
The prosecution did not challenge court decisions to release Mubarak’s sons nor Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated members who exceeded their legal remand period.
According to the defence lawyer in the case Mokhtar Mounir, the prosecution’s motives are questionable, and it “persists in unlawfully detaining the defendants”, he told Daily News Egypt on Wednesday morning.
“Unfortunately, the prosecution challenged the court decision, which was nothing more than the application of the law; since the detainees exceeded the maximum pre-trial detention of two years,” Mounir said.
Similarly, Aboul Nasr said: “The prosecution is well aware of Article 143, and it should be the body mostly concerned with law enforcement. However, I am optimistic about the court session scheduled for Thursday, and I think the court will uphold its decision to grant them the release,” he added.
“We were extremely happy to hear the court’s verdict in favour of the detainees, according to which Hussein would have probably been reunited with his family today,” he said. “Instead, his release could be delayed until Saturday, if the court decision is upheld on Thursday.”
Meanwhile, some writers, who met with President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi Tuesday and demanded Hussein’s release among other improvements to human rights and freedoms, claimed that the president “responded to their demands by [giving the order to] release Hussein”.
Such claims were strongly rejected by Hussein’s lawyers. “This is completely untrue. If the court decision had stemmed from a political order, it would have applied to the prosecution as well,” Mounir said, concluding that “what happened was a fair decision made by a fair judge”.
“I think that the prosecution’s challenge of the court order is sure-fire evidence that this had nothing to do with Al-Sisi’s apparent interference in the case,” Aboul Nasr said.
In fact, there have been intense efforts made by other people and groups in supporting Hussein’s case. Tito was able to campaign for the cause of his brother on an international level.
Amnesty International then adopted Hussein’s case. It issued several calls for his release and demanded investigations into reported abuses he faced in prison.
Moreover, local NGOs and human rights lawyers have repeatedly advocated for his release, including AFTE, EIPR, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Al Haqanya Law Centre, the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, El Nadeem Centre for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, and Nazra for Feminist Studies.
Hussein was 18 when he was arrested. He and Talaat faced unclear charges of joining an “illegal organisation” and engaging in violence.
His health has deteriorated over the past two years, as Hussein was under treatment before his arrest, after a surgery on his leg. Despite his suffering, Tito said Hussein remains optimistic, and in his words: “tomorrow holds a better future for us”.