After the coup that ousted the former president of Egypt – Mohammed Mursi, the junta went on a campaign of terror against its opposition. Much of its campaign was arbitrary. Reports of forced disappearances, political imprisonment, and torture have become rampant. Several thousands have been subjected to political imprisonment in mock trials and many including the former president himself were sentenced to death.
Esraa El-Taweel is a young Egyptian woman who enjoys photography, cooking, and spending time with friends. She was kidnapped by the security services along with her two friends Sohaib Saad and Umar while having dinner on the 1st of June. For several weeks the police denied any knowledge of their whereabouts. Eventually they were found in different prisons.
Sohaib was seen in a video released by the Interior Ministry confessing of committing acts of terror. There were allegations that those that have appeared in that video were subjected to torture and coercion.
Esraa smuggled this statement out of prison and asked us to share it with the world.
The first letter Esraa El-Taweel writes from behind bars, upon her request; we are sharing it widely.
1) “Among us, there is a friend who never feels tired; a friend who is always faithful, delicate, and if he says, he does.”
On Monday, 1st of June, Sohaib’s trial session was in court. I was talking to Umar on phone telling him about my fear for Sohaib wishing I could bear what he might face of unfair verdicts. Umar said that we will never undergo anything except what we have been destined to and what God has written to us. Umar told me we have nothing to do but to support him. Then he said, “let’s go out” and added “I will finish my work and then we can go horseback riding.”
2) In Time
On the same day in the morning, Umar suggested that I watch a movie called “In Time”. After watching it, I told Umar “Thanks God that we do not know what is hidden for us and that we do not know when we will pass away or what will happen. I tried to imagine if I ever knew the unseen/unknown/destined, I would be terrified.” When we were riding horses, I went absent minded, Umar asked me what I was thinking of; I said I was afraid that time will pass and we will not be together anymore.
3) The Last Supper..
After getting off the horses, we were clueless; where should we go for dinner? One of the things I love most about Umar is how he was always eager to experience new cuisines; every week, we tried eating in a different restaurant. He has never eaten at “Chili’s” restaurant before, and the nearest Chili’s branch was in Nile City in Zamalek. We sat at our table and happily ordered our meals. Sohaib called Umar saying “I am on my way to you, I will only order a salad”. After finishing and exiting the restaurant, we found a big mirror and stopped to snap some photographs together. We took a lot of photos. Suhaib stood nearby to pray the evening prayer. We went out of Nile City once he was done. Suddenly, three men stopped us asking for our ID cards and our mobile phones, and then they forcefully pushed us into a micro bus. At first, I thought we were being kidnapped. I asked them repeatedly that I want to call my family but they refused. I looked behind me to find both Suhaib and Umar blindfolded. I asked one of the kidnappers who seemed to be their boss (the oldest) “Who are you sir?” He said “I am Hussam Farag “. I asked him “and What is the title of your Excellency?” He laughed and told me “I am an officer, and you’d better remain silent”. After two minutes he ordered me to use my headscarf as a blindfold but it was short. Suhaib took off his T-shirt and the officer ordered him to hand it to me to cover my eyes with it.
4) 15 Days at the State Security Premises
I stayed locked up for 15 consecutive days at the State Security Premises; day-long investigations, hearing voices and screams of tortured victims, men crying out loudly. Sohaib and Umar were taken away and I was alone. I was the only girl there. For the length of the fifteen days I was kept blindfolded; hearing threats and getting horrified. Actually, I do not know how to tell what I was going through but it was a horrible and terrifying experience. During the first five days, I would tell myself “Today, they will release me and send me home”. By the sixth day, I lost all hope and fell into despair. All that time, I was weeping and crying, thinking “this must be unreal”, comparing it to torture in the grave. I would almost lose my mind when I thought about my family “Did anything bad/wrong happen to Dad or Mum?”. I kept on praying and praying all the time. I had nothing to do but pray and weep with rivers of tears. In fact, I am unable to account for what was happening to me.
On the fifteenth day, they got me out to the deportation vehicle/wagon. I found myself at the building of the Supreme State Security Prosecution. The first round of investigations lasted for eighteen consecutive hours and it literally covered my whole life since the moment I was born. I could not understand anything of what was happening. I had been staying for sixteen days without having a shower. My legs were unable to carry me because of the injury that almost handicapped me ( I was shot with a bullet in my back on the 25th of January 2014, a fracture of the bullet hit and remained in my backbone causing temporary paralysis of which I am still suffering till this moment and can’t walk normally). I begged the prosecutor to only allow me to call my family but he refused. “You will be sent back to prison today, and tomorrow we will resume investigations”.
5) Al-Qanater Women’s Prison
I have been wearing a pair of trousers, a blouse, a cardigan and a short headscarf, and kidnapped with two young men. Their false accusations to me were: joining Al-Ikhwan (the Muslim Brotherhood “MB”) , supporting the MB, fabricating news and spreading them inside and outside Egypt. How crazy and stupid is this?! Who am I?! All of those accusations never happened and nothing of this has been proved. I found myself in prison. This was the first time in my life to see such great number of people and a lot of ladies. They put me in the “newcomers” cell. I did not have any clothes except that filthy galabia (female prison garment), the prosecutor told me afterwards that they call it “ Shoull”. I am in a continuous state of nonstop crying. In reality I am very weak and I am weeping all the time. I am fine with this, tears can sometimes become a beautiful soothing thing. My whole body is itching, 17 days have passed with no single shower. My family knew that I was in Al Qanater Prison and came to visit me on the first day of the Ramadan. Thanks God.. Thanks God.. Thanks God. I felt as if I stepped out of my grave. I kept on crying and feeling that my faith in God has been restored. I experienced very strange feelings and strong emotions.. as if I have been resurrected. The prison is a scary and horrible place. A whole new world different than what I know; I met detainees who were accused of drug abuse, some for being prostitutes, some for pickpocketing , some for stealing public funds etc. I have encountered their very strange people who are nearly monsters and heard very strange stories. People inside are always ready to tell lies, backstab and fabricate stories about one another; an unhealthy environment packed with many problems and much hate. All ladies inside are constantly smoking which made me almost choke and lose breath. Jail is a despicable place, I hate it very very very much. Whenever I feel exhausted, I fall asleep and wake up horrified asking “Where am I?”. All that time I have the feeling I am in the middle of an endless nightmare. What brought me here? How did all of this happen and still happening? I want to go back home to mum and dad. I was kept for 9 days in the newcomers’ cell, then I was transferred to the MB/ Ikhwani (Islamists) cell. Everyone knows I am not an MB member, never was and no one in my family is. The most important thing in this new cell is that no one smokes here since I was almost dying short of breath in the other one. This cell is disgusting, full of cockroaches. Everything here is very difficult. I miss my home, I miss my family and my friends, I miss my cat Woody. I badly miss everything and want to go back home.
6) “At the end of the tunnel, life gives us light. It calls us to forget the pain we once suffered greatly.”
I do not know what is happening. I am praying all the time, asking God to end my torture and misery in captivity. God is generous. I am very disappointed with Egypt, and everything in it. As everyday passes, I wait in my cell expecting them to release me at any moment. Really, I am full of anger and disappointment. Oh God, when will this nightmare come to an end? I am actually very weak and I know that I am not good at writing. I just want to talk and let out my thoughts and feelings, although I do not understand till now why all of this is happening. However, I am waiting for anything; for any miracle to happen and make me happy. I love my father mother and my sisters so much.. as well as all my friends; I love them dearly too. Oh God, I pray for everything to get better.
While I am writing this right now now, news came that Summar El-Najjar and aunt Farida (2 of my cellmates) will be released. I am very happy for them. I feel that I will be released soon too. Thanks God. I am waiting for my good news. Enough is enough.
*Ah! By the way, anyone who dares call me a “Hara’er” (arabic word for “free women” Islamists in Egypt use to iconize women and girls detained or imprisoned nowadays); I swear I will make him regret it really bad, once I am out!
Al Qanater Women’s Prison
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