Abdullah Elshamy: In Egypt’s dungeons

‘Despite this fear, I remain as positive as he is defiant. I am sure he will be with me soon.’

Gehad Khaled and her husband, Abdullah Elshamy [Al Jazeera]

It’s almost May and a thought comes to my mind; how will my husband and I celebrate his birthday this year? Do I surprise him by booking a trip to a new destination or do I organise a small party with close friends, or do we go where we spent our first day of marriage, on a Mediterranean island?

What shall I get him as a gift? Is there enough time to learn how to bake a beautiful cake?

Last year was the first year we spent his birthday together. He told me it was the most beautiful he’s ever had, and I promised to make it the most beautiful every year. So what do I do this year?

Hold on for a moment! This year is different. Abdullah is not here, and even though he hasn’t travelled on assignment, we will not be meeting within days. Abdullah is only a few miles away. It only takes me 20 minutes by car to reach the place he is; but he is not somewhere normal.

Abdullah is detained behind thick concrete walls, metal bars and armed guards separate us. This year it’s different because I don’t know if we will spend his birthday together. Will I be standing outside his wretched jail cell, or will I be given permission to relieve him the brunt of his daily captivity?

And my mind starts to go in a different way. How will I celebrate with him in jail? How will we spend our time together surrounded by dozens of people and a number of informants around us violating any form of privacy in our conversation.


Is it possible to celebrate together and alone, away from all these people?

On May 5, he will be 26 years old. He would have spent 9,490 days on this earth – 275 of these days in Egypt’s dungeons.

And when he is out – and I am sure that is not far away – how will he be compensated for this? What could possibly make this right?

Today, April 30, Abdullah completes 100 days in his open-ended hunger strike. His only demand is to attain his freedom, the freedom he was born with, the freedom every human being is born with, the freedom no entity in this world has the right to take away from him.

It is painful. One hundred days without eating. What makes it worse is the Egyptian authorities’ refusal to allow independent doctors to examine Abdullah; I have no idea of how his health condition is; he has lost an incredible amount of weight, can barely walk and I have no idea what is going on inside the organs and nerve cells of his body.

Forty-nine days ago, I decided to join his hunger strike, so I can live a very small part of his experience. I now survive solely on water.

It’s not easy; the constant fear for my husband, the unbearable thoughts of what may happen to him in a country where rulers have demonstrated they have no respect for human rights and no understanding of the basic principles of justice or rule of law. But I have a sense of pride that he is ready to sacrifice his life for freedom – not just for his own freedom but for the freedom of every journalist, for the sake of truth. I am proud that there is a human being willing to sacrifice that which is most precious to him, so that the hope of a free press and freedom of speech remains – and especially that this man is my husband.

Many people talk to me about what may be happening inside our bodies and what may happen to us in the future, but all this talk about body doesn’t matter; because so long as our freedom is stolen from us, what is there to fear?

I am just another woman who is afraid of things getting to the point of death, but I know that Abdullah would want to choose his own fate rather than leave it to his captors.

Despite this fear, I remain as positive as he is defiant. I am sure he will be with me soon, and that history will be written about the resilience of this young man who fought to regain his freedom and the freedom of all journalists in the face of tyranny and injustice.

Gehad Khaled is an Egyptian activist and wife of detained Al Jazeera journalist Abdullah Elshamy.