April 16th, 2014. Society in prison is no different than it is outside. While the prison floor we all sleep on unifies us, the way each prisoner is treated varies greatly. Prisoners are labelled either political or criminal. The most common prison uniform colour is white, which is for detainees awaiting trial; there is also blue for those serving a sentence, and red for those on death row.
Istikbal prison in Tora is divided into four cell blocks: A, B, C and D. The latter two – where I am being held – are reserved for political prisoners detained since June 30, which includes arrests at clashes in Rabaa, Ramses, Fatah Mosque, 6th of October City and smaller protests like that ones that took place at Maspero and the U.S embassy. A few prisoners arrested in Sinai have also been here for years.
During our the weekly visits, social classes and splits become obvious, as tens of prisoners on criminal charges queue up for an opportunity to carry your bags (which families are able to deliver on their visits) in return for a pack of cigarettes, a few cubes of sugar or a share of food.
I don’t often venture out of my cell. I’m not healthy enough to do that. Most of my time is spent with the friends that I have made here over the past months, or colleagues who share the same struggle.
Thankfully, my stubborn nature has helped with enduring the hunger and continuing with the strike despite the continuous sight of food. My body has adapted to the lack of it, and I have no plans to give in until I walk out of here.
Sometimes guards and informants come to chat with me. They show a lot of sympathy, and frequently express their helplessness in this system. One guard, who has worked here for 26 years curses his job, while explaining he only does it to make a wage.
Yesterday, the prison warden and investigations officer requested that I meet them. I did, only for a minute, in which they stared at me and then looked at each and muttered, “He really is on hunger strike, he has lost a lot of weight.” I only discovered the next day that they had been reporting for the last three months to their superiors that I was only abstaining from the prison food – which I have never eaten in my 247 days here.
It becomes a responsibility here to continue documenting people’s stories -endless stories from all over Egypt and all classes of the society, stories of injustice that befalls everyone with no discrimination. And, whatever the circumstances, this responsibility requires me to remain sane, focused and true to myself.
I pray to be with my family and in my home before the May 5, the day I will turn 26. A few hours ago I decided that until I am released I will give up all liquids except the small amount of water I need to sustain me on this road. It is a road whose details I will continue to write until the end. If death waits for me at the end, then at least I will have chosen my own fate, never backing down.
I am not a number in your books, or a false piece of information that you can distort the truth with. I am a determination that will defy all obstacles until the message, not the person, is notorious.
April 11th 2014
Letter from Abdullah Elshamy an Egyptian journalist in custody since 14 August 2013 with no charges, Abdullah began hunger strike since 21st of January 2014.
My name is Abdullah Elshamy. I have spent quarter a century in this life. Eight months of which have been locked between four walls. Every day is a replicate of the passed one, and the one after. There’s no tomorrow here.
Eighty days of my open hunger strike have passed, with no backing down until my demand for an unconditional freedom is met. My story isn’t an individual one, it’s the story of every free spirit and a defense for a universal right protected by every law and declaration.
Not far from now, the door of this cell will open wide free. With no guard or obstacle. And I shall walk with a head held high and an unbroken will. I am not a criminal nor a vandal. I am a journalist, and that’s not a crime.
February 16th 2014
Detained brother and journalist Abdullah Elshamy completes 6 months in jail with no official charge or referral to trial. In protest to his indefinite detention, he has been on a full hunger strike since the 20th of January. Today marks his 25th day. Here’s a statement he wrote:
“In the dull stagnancy of prison, holding on to memories becomes a challenge. It’s one way out of these walls. Through these memories, we maintain our humanity and keep the faintest relation with a life that we’ve been separated from. As days slowly pass here, life seems to continue beyond prison in its brutally quick rhythm, stirring memories that can no longer be celebrated; my first marriage anniversary, my brothers’ birthdays, the Eid, and so much more.
What I miss the most here is the sky. I only see it for a few moments every week, on my way to the short family visits. The sun, the moon, the stars, and African rain are things I was once used to seeing and feeling, but not anymore.
My promise to myself is stay human, and not be broken by this. It is thanks to the faces of my father, mother and wife hovering around me that I can maintain that promise.
When my mind gets tired of the past, I think of the future. A day where the thousands locked – all of them without discrimination – are running free. A day where doing my job will no longer be a crime. In prison, we see the signs of a better future in every corner. Perhaps because we’re not outside to view the grimmer image. But that’s what we have: the littlest breeze passing with no permission from the warden, or the chirping of birds that we can not see. They all assure me that freedom is a promise that shall be fulfilled for those who stay loyal to it.”
February 2nd 2014
“During the past week, the one question I have asked myself was: How much can I endure? And is my strike worth anything at all?
My cellmates have often doubted how serious it was. Many thought it wouldn’t last for over a few days. Some concerned friends have tried to convince me to eat at night and refrain for the rest of the day.
On the third day, an informant named Salah spoke to me about my decision. He said “no one was going to respond to you”. When I told him that doesn’t bother me, he said “Then they’ll put you in a separate room soon”. Today he has repeated these threats. I’ve lost a number of pounds. I only rely on liquids, the littlest effort makes me feel dizzy.
The ongoing regression against journalists occupies my mind these days. It’s unfortunate for aspiring young reporters to work in such atmosphere that forces you to choose: either with us or you are against us.
This is my 170th day in jail. My next court appearance will be on the 29th of January, for the usual renewal of detention that’s been happening for six months now.
The encouragement and solidarity that I’ve received have been nothing short of humbling. I am just a 25 year old who was beginning a career in journalism, and that has greatly affected me. The price I pay for my freedom is nothing compared to colleagues who’ve lost their lives or those injured. I am grateful to everyone, and in particular my colleague Jamal Elshayyal. I will continue my hunger strike. I know it might not change anything, but it’s what I feel compelled to do in order to raise awareness about the importance of freedom of speech.
Whatever happens, my soul remains strong.”
January 27th 2014 – Published in the New York Times
Abdullah has been on a full hunger strike since the 21st of January. Tora prison administration has threatened to move him into solitary confinement. Here’s the statement he released:
“It’s 3 in the morning while everyone in the cell is fast asleep. A breeze of air penetrates the ceiling full of iron rods in a hurry, 16 of us are lying in an space of 12 meters. By my right and left bags dangle and are narrowly fit to help us live in this place .
I say life timidly and reluctantly, as there is no life here. Today I complete 160 days of captivity in jail without any charges. Outside, there are colleagues who live with consent to be mouthpieces and witnesses to the violation of the freedom of media and agree to it.
I do not regret any day I’ve stayed in this place. Neither have I made any offense against any human being nor participated in the falsification of anyone’s consciousness. My work is available on the Internet for those who want to see it, I take pride of my work in Al Jazeera network. I will always say that regardless of where I was.
I do not belong to any group or ideology. I belong to my conscience and my humanity, and I do not take interest in what is been said in the local media about me or my colleagues. History doesn’t forget.
Our freedom will prevail, for my colleagues, “Mohamed Badr – Muhammad Fahmi – Baher Ghorab – Peter Greste” and myself.
We are witnesses of freedom and will always be remebered as that. I know that a prosecutor who’s clearly lost his senses of justice or a judge who works by orders from above will all be forgotten and despised.
I chose to be on hunger strike to send a few messages; one to journalists who choose to falsify the facts and cover up for the violations of freedoms and media, the other to the Egyptian junta that I do not fear losing my life in my struggle for freedom. Nothing will break my will or dignity.”