North Africa, West Asia

Jailed over a T-shirt: freedom for Mahmoud

A letter from Tarek to his brother Mahmoud Hussein, jailed in Egypt for 500 days for wearing an anti-torture T-shirt. Sign the petition calling for his release.

Tarek Tito
8 June 2015
Mahmoud Hussein.jpg

Dear Mahmoud,

You’ve spent nearly 500 days in jail, and my heart couldn’t be sadder at the injustice that you and so many others like you are facing.

Today, President Abdel Fattah El Sisi completes his first year in office. Many of the promises he made have yet to be fulfilled. He has praised the youth of this country, yet so many of them are languishing in jail.

In a February address to the nation, the president said: “All innocent youth will be released from jail”. Today, I ask: “Well, what about my brother, who was arrested when he was just 18? He is in prison because he wore a T-shirt calling for a ‘nation without torture’ and a scarf celebrating the ‘25 January Revolution’. He has not been formally charged or tried for any offence. So why hasn’t he been released?”

For reasons not clear to us, you are no longer being brought to court for the hearings where the judge decides whether or not to renew your detention order.

Two weeks ago, I attended the court session with the lawyers in your defence team. But you were not there.

I dread to think about your prison conditions. You’re being held in the Appeals Prison behind the Cairo Security Directorate—the same place where fellow activist Alaa Abdel Fattah was once detained. It’s known to be among the worst prisons in Egypt. It’s only meant to be a temporary holding facility. Detainees on death row await their execution there.

You’re being kept with 44 other inmates in a cell that should hold half that number. The cell is full of insects. Getting an occasional glimpse of daylight is a bonus.

My only solace is that you are keeping your spirits up by improving your drawing skills and corresponding with other detained activists. I love the drawing you did for human rights lawyer Mahienour El-Massry, that other hero in a cage. You drew a laughing, smiling Donald Duck, a jovial character, like the Mahienour that we all love. It also reminds me of your spirit: playing football and having fun with your friends.

drawing of mahienour el massry.jpg

Our parents are heartbroken that instead of building your future, taking exams and finishing your education, your life is on hold in a dark cell. In the 17 months since your arrest, you have spent your 19th birthday in jail and missed our brother’s wedding. We missed you sorely.

I remember that you had barely begun to protest in downtown Cairo before the demonstrations were broken up across the city on 25 January 2014. Year after year, on every anniversary, we face more repression and deaths. This year, on 24 January 2015, we received the awful news that the poet and leftist activist, Shaimaa al-Sabbagh, had been killed in downtown Cairo by a police officer. She had been at a march, commemorating those who died in the revolution four years ago, when it was violently dispersed by the security forces.

On the day of your arrest, 25 January 2014, I went to a planned protest in the Maadi neighbourhood of Cairo, where we were hoping to demonstrate against former president Mohamed Morsi and his supporters, as well as against the current president. But the police broke us up before we could march.

I was arrested that day and taken to the prison at Maadi police station. I was held there for 74 days, charged with taking part in an illegal protest and with being a member of the banned Muslim Brotherhood movement, to which Morsi belongs. Ironic, isn’t it? On appeal, I was acquitted.

It was on the day of my arrest that I found out that you too had been imprisoned. Knowing that your younger brother has been arrested and tortured is one of the worst feelings in the world.

You were arrested at the Marg police checkpoint, as you were going home on a minibus. That very day, you were brought before National Security officers in the police station for interrogation.

You were blindfolded and your hands were cuffed behind your back. The officer wanted to dictate the “confession” to you and videotape it. You refused, of course, saying that you wouldn’t confess to crimes that you hadn’t committed. So they beat you, gave you electric shocks to the face, back, hands and testicles.

After four hours of this treatment, you told the National Security officer that you would “confess” to whatever they wanted, as long they stopped the torture.

The National Security officer videotaped you “confessing” to possessing explosives, belonging to a “terrorist” group, receiving money to demonstrate, and participating in an unauthorized protest. Our family saw the signs of torture when they visited you on the day you were investigated.

Dear brother, tomorrow you are due to appear in court in front of a judge, who may or not renew your detention. I hope that he hears our call and those of all who care about human rights in Egypt and releases you from prison.

With love,

Your brother,

Tarek Tito  

Amnesty International has been calling for Mahmoud Hussein's release. Please sign the online petition here.

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