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Egypt: “Cell no. 2/2, Ward no. 4” Shady Habash’s Grave and the Prison of the Forgotten Detainees

Reed Matar
Egyptian Journalist
May 4, 2020
“Ramy Essam is not responsible for Shady’s death. It is the regime that is responsible for the imprisonment and death, there’s no need to lay the blame on Ramy and acquit the police, the regime and the jailers”.

A state of shock followed the death of the young Egyptian director Shady Habash. A shock that can be best represented by Fayrouz’s melancholy song “Shady and I”, which has become a eulogy for every Shady, most recently Shady Habash, who died in remand prison, after more than two years without trial. The reason he was arrested was because he’d directed Ramy Essam’s song ‘Balaha’.

Today Shady and Ramy have become heroes of the heartbreaking verse “Shady and I sang together, … and Shady’s lost”.

Cell 2/2 ward no. 4 witnessed two deaths of young men in their twenties, Shady Habash and Omar Adel, who died as a result of medical negligence. Shady Habash died a few days ago, after the prison administration ignored his cries as he suffered a peptic ulcer, which caused him severe pain that made him moan for hours before dying among his mates. Omar Adel died last July, in a cell no more than two meters by one meter, while in solitary confinement, after the prison administration had discovered he was hiding a cell phone. In the same cell now reside Hassan Al-Banna Mubarak, Mustafa Al-Asar, Ibrahim Ashmar, Hassan Mustafa, Hussam Al-Sayyad, Mustafa Jamal, Hussein Ibrahim Al-Husseini, Ziad Abu Al-Fadl, Bilal Abdul Razek, Ahmed Kamal and Jalal Al-Behairi. They are all in critical health conditions and a terrible psychological state, due to losing two of their mates out of neglect, and due to their confinement in a cell with no set time for their release, and without trial.

Shady Habash

“Balaha”

Two of those who remain in the cell were arrested for the same case, the case of a song entitled ‘Balaha’. They are Jalal al-Beheiry, a song writer, and Mustafa Jamal, who was the manager of Ramy Essam’s account on social media. This one song placed the whole team in prison, as well as some of those who had previously worked with Essam on other songs, as if they’d desired to punish the artist Ramy Essam through oppressing all those who’ve worked with him. In March 2018, the security forces arrested Mustafa Jamal, who was responsible for authenticating Ramy Essam’s account on facebook, Ahmad Shawki, another one of Ramy Essam’s social media admins, Jalal al-Beheiry, his song writer, and Ramy Sidqi, a guitarist who had composed his music on one of Essam’s songs in 2011.

We tried to contact Ramy Essam, but he was in an incredibly compromised psychological state, so much so that he could not answer our questions. I asked, “If your mental health is not suitable for taking this interview, please tell us.” He responded with, “Yes, thank you,” and then hung up. Ramy briefly eulogized his friend on his official Facebook page.

The strange thing is that many voices have begun to blame Essam instead of those responsible for the medical negligence, on account that he had “implicated these young men to participate in a bold opposition song, although he is living in Europe”. It’s as if those voices are collaborating on a plan to destroy Essam all together, while the real culprits run free from any guilt.

Ramy Essam released the song ‘Balha’ in January 2018, after the first four years of Sisi’s rule had ended and preparations had begun for new presidential elections. The song seemed too ambitious, challenging and revolutionary, with much hope that Sisi will not be president any more, but contrary to the ambition of the song producers, Sisi returned and cracked down on the song’s team, only a few weeks after it was published on YouTube.

Shady’s Cellmate

We tried to find a picture or a story about Shady from inside the prison, the Shady after the song, who was a totally different human from Shady before it, and we came to find his cellmate, who had lived with him for more than a year and a half, but was released 6 months ago while Shady had remained in the remand prison with the other mates.

Muhammad Mahrous (not his real name) told “Daraj”: “I entered the same prison he was in, three days before him, but on the account of a different case. The charges were prepared for me and they were: Joining a terrorist group and spreading false news. What happened to us was as follows: We were arrested from our homes and taken to National Security headquarters, handcuffed and blindfolded for a long time, during which we were beaten and tortured. Then we were taken to remand prison, in a cell called the ‘New Comers’ Cell’, where I met Shady for the first time. He was happy to leave National Security headquarters and become liberated from the torture and investigation. He was happy at first, but by the third day he started to feel frustrated and scared.”

“Shady was not eating well because the food served in prison was awful and he used to smoke a lot until he developed a peptic ulcer. On the day of his death, he had a very bad stomach ache and his colleagues tried to ask the sergeant for help, in order to bring him a painkiller, and perhaps Shady had needed a gastric lavage to survive too, but unfortunately that did not happen”

“I discovered that we had worked on the same video clips and advertisements for Vodafone, I was the motion graphic artist and he was the director. Shady was the funniest person in the prison, hilarious and smart. He once told me how much he loved traveling, and how he used to go on many trips around the mountains and the sea in Dahab, a small town on the southeast coast of the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt. He was an incredibly ambitious and mature person. A young man in his early 20s who managed to be the main photographer for Red Bull ads and for concerts of both the bands Mashrou’ Leila and Massar Egbari. He was also the director and photographer of some of Souad Massi’s songs and I’m quite certain that he would have had a very bright future,“ Mahrous added.

“Shady was not really concerned with politics, a very ordinary person who did not understand what was happening in the country and was not interested in knowing anything about it. However, he knew how bad the political situation was, and when we were in the cell, Shadi kept drawing overlapping circles on our walls using some techniques of light and shadow. He covered the gray walls with circles that could almost glow!” Mahrous said.

Mahrous notes that despite the resistance techniques that Shady used to get rid of fear, like jokes and drawing, he used to feel very frustrated each time his detention was renewed for an additional 45 days. “It’s supposed that the pre-trial detention (PTD) lasts for two years maximum, of which Shadi had spent waiting, every 45 days, filling himself with hope, only to find out that he was obliged to stay for another 45 day period.”

“When I knew that I was about to be set free, I didn’t know what to tell Shady, he told me he’d started to forget how the world used to look like outside the prison walls. It is so hard to feel like everyone forgot about you and to spend two years just sitting on a bed, smoking..” He added

“Shady was not eating well because the food served in prison was awful and he used to smoke a lot until he developed a peptic ulcer. On the day of his death, he had a very bad stomach ache and his colleagues tried to ask the sergeant for help, in order to bring him a painkiller, and perhaps Shady had needed a gastric lavage to survive too, but unfortunately that did not happen,” Mahrous said.

Concerning the way life felt like in remand, Mahrous described the conditions and said: “In remand prison, we were melting in a cell that measures nine metres by three metres, including the bathroom area. They refused to let any fans in, tissue paper was not allowed, though these were all ordinary everyday items, but they were prohibited depending on the sergeant’s mood. No one cared about the prisoners, whether they died from the cold or suffered scabies or any other chronic diseases. And to visit the clinic, you had to keep asking to see a doctor for a whole week.”

Abd al-Rahman Faris, brother of Hassan al-Banna, who is detained in remand prison told “Daraj” that: “Ramy Essam has nothing to do with Shady’s death. The regime is responsible for his imprisonment and death. There’s no point in blaming Ramy Essam and overlooking what was done by the Ministry of Interior Affairs, the regime and the wardens. Actually, I didn’t know Shady in person but he was imprisoned with my brother, Hassan, and my family knew Shady pretty well because of their visits to Hassan.”

“I know that Hassan is now devastated after Shady’s death. What a painful feeling! Now, I’m very concerned about my brother after Shady’s death, because Hassan is having a bit of a health crisis, and with any psychological trauma he may pass through complications. I can imagine how hard it feels for him to lose a person who spent two years with him in this cruel place.” Abd al-Rahman Faris said.

“How can we make sure they’re in good health after banning the visits because of the ‘Coronavirus’? My brother, Hassan al-Banna, was supposed to be released in February and Shadi was supposed to be released in March. For 6 months, Hassan had been facing difficulties to see a doctor inside the prison, and we also asked them to offer him some medical tests and checks―at our own expense―but they refused. Now, Hassan’s blood sugar got too low and we know nothing about the reasons behind it.” Abd al-Rahman added.

In a previous report, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) monitored the increasing number of deaths in Egyptian prisons as a result of medical neglect, and after Shady Habash’s death, the Egyptian human rights centers issued a joint statement in which it said: “The signatory organizations express their deep concern about the psychological and physical well-being of the remaining detainees inside Ward 4 of Tora prison, after witnessing the death of more than one of their inmates without being cared for, pointing out that some of them passed the legal time periods of pre-trial detention, which makes them eligible for an immediate release, including the journalists like Hassan al-Banna Mubarak and Mustapha al-Aasar. The death of Shady Habash makes us recall the names of dozens of creative artists, directors, authors, poets, writers, publishers, bloggers, and YouTubers whose lives are being wasted in prisons, because of exercising their legitimate rights to freedom of creation, as well as others who have been hidden or prosecuted, and released by precautionary measures or after prolonged periods of imprisonment as a means of intimidation and deterrence.”

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