From my prison cell: Abdullah Elshamy

Al Jazeera journalist, who has been detained in Cairo jail since August and has been on a hunger strike, writes of hope.

At the end of October, some of us in cell 7/3 in Abuza’bal prison learned about the death of the mother of one of our colleagues in the same cell. What they did not know, however, was how to tell him about the death of his mother.

At the same time, another inmate, who is in his early twenties, heard that his first child was born but had to wait for weeks to see him at the monthly visiting time granted by the prison authorities.

Prison is a big tragedy in which the lives of people are brought to a standstill until further notice.  Some lose their fathers, wives or their jobs. The only space available to them in the world becomes only a few centimetres when lying, or two or three metres when standing.

On Tuesday night, May 5th, while I was spending my birthday sleeping, two prison guards came to my cell and asked me to accompany them to meet the officer in-charge at nine o’clock.

This was rather strange but later I found out that the prison authorities had received a message from the Minister’s Assistant for Prison Affairs, inquiring about my health situation.

This was followed by a visit by the same person in the morning of Wednesday, 6th May.

There was apparent confusion.  He was trying to convince me to put an end to my hunger strike, saying that it was ” a sin ” one time , or that ” Egypt needed me ” another time.  So I replied: “Egypt needs me to be in prison?”.

He continued talking about the importance of looking after my health, trying to be friendly by saying he would refer my case to the prosecutor and to the court as if that had not been done already.

The conversation lasted for half an hour, and then I ended it by saying: “You know and I know that my detention is to no avail, these are nothing more than arbitrary and groundless decisions.”

So he turned to the prison officers and said: “Place him under constant surveillance and examination”.

Although I do not know the reasons behind these two incidents, they are indications that victory is imminent. I may not have thought that things would come to a point of stubborn defiance between one individual and an entire regime which is afraid of him and are doing all they can to dissuade him.

It has come to my knowledge that the European Union wishes to monitor the coming elections and that its foreign policy chief Baroness Ashton is happy with the steps taken by Egypt toward democracy.

I am sure, deep down, she must realise that the basis for any democracy is the freedom of press.

So how can Ashton, I wonder, trust a democracy without a free press, at a time when I am facing a slow death alongside other journalists like Peter, Baher, Mohammad, Aladily, Sameh, and Shokan?

We are all journalists languishing in jail, without committing any wrongdoing.

Baroness Ashton, everything eventually comes to an end, and history will only perpetuate the courageous stands one takes. I think it is not too late to take one.

There is a saying that I had often heard in Nigeria from an old man: “One day, each person will get what’s pre-ordained for him”.

I believe that I am walking a path that will make the future better than the past. I am a story being written…it will be a happy one indeed.

Abdullah Elshamy
Tuesday 6th May
Tora Prison