Egypt: mounting concerns for political prisoners following the death of Shady Habash

Following the death of filmmaker Shady Habash in custody in Egypt, English PEN has joined calls for a full and impartial investigation into his death, and for the immediate release of those who remain in detention in violation of their right to freedom of expression.  

Twenty-four-year-old filmmaker Shady Habash died in custody on 2 May 2020. He had been held in pre-trial detention for 793 days, despite the two-year maximum proscribed by Egyptian law. Habash was among eight individuals arrested in March 2018 for his reported involvement in exiled musician Ramy Essam’s song ‘Balaha’. His case never went to trial, nor was he charged with a crime.  

English PEN is among more than 60 signatories to an open letter led by our colleagues at PEN America and the newly-established Amani: Africa Creative Defence Network calling on the Egyptian authorities to conduct a full and transparent investigation into his death and for the release of those who remain in detention. 

‘Habash’s case has sent a heartbreakingly clear message to artists and writers throughout Egypt: Independent expression may lead to years-long illegal detention, and even death, in custody,’ the letter reads. ‘We strongly urge you to release all artists and writers currently held in pre-trial detention for merely exercising their right to freedom of expression, especially in light of COVID-19, which now ravages prisons around the world.’ 

Cases of particular concern include poet and lyricist Galal El-Behairy, who is continuing to serve a three-year prison sentence, and web designer Mustafa Gamal who remains in pre-trial detention. English PEN was also among the signatories to a letter sent to President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi on the eve of Eid Al-Fitr calling for them to be released from detention. 

Other cases of concern include the blogger and activist Alaa Abd-El Fattah who has been held in pre-trial detention since September 2019. His mother Laila Soueif and aunt, the novelist Ahdaf Soueif, were among those arrested during a protest calling for the release of detainees in order to curb the spread of coronavirus in Egyptian prisons in March 2020. In spite of this, Laila Soueif has continued her attempts to deliver cleaning and medical supplies to her son in the maximum-security Tora prison. A recent attempt to do so saw the arrest of Lina Attalah, editor-in-chief of Mada Masr, who was interviewing Soueif at the time: Attalah has since been released on bail.  

English PEN calls for an end to the harassment of those legitimately exercising their right to freedom of expression. We also call for a full and impartial investigation into the death of Shady Habash, and for the immediate and unconditional release of those still in detention. 

(Image: Shady Habash via PEN America)

About Cat Lucas

Cat Lucas is English PEN's Writers at Risk Programme Manager

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