Interview with a political prisoner, Egypt

Dina Samak , Wednesday 23 Mar 2011

After 3 years in highly guarded prisons, Ahmed Galal, a political prisoner waiting to be released talks to Ahram Online about fears of being forgotten forever and that the old regime still has a hold in Egypt

It’s highly unusual to receive a phone call from a political prisoner from his high-security prison in Egypt. Ahmed Galal, who has been imprisoned for three years although he’s been cleared to go home by courts, called to inform Ahram Online that the political prisoners in Tura (south Cairo) prison compounds are worried because they have yet to be released.

Galal, 32 years old, was arrested three years ago, accused of being a member of an Islamic terrorist group - a charge that he totally denies.

He recounts how he was arrested: "I returned from the [United Arab] Emirates after working there for five years. I had to finish some paperwork after getting a new job and see my father." A few months later he was arrested in his father’s home.

"I pray regularly, like all other Muslims, and prefer to do this in the mosque, which was the only thing they had against me," he asserts. Galal denies membership in any Islamic political organisation, even though he is categorised as a Jihad and Jamaat Islamia prisoner.

Although Galal avoided talking about how he was able to get the cell phone that he was calling from, he did elaborate a bit on the easing of access to the outside world.

"After I was arrested in 2008 my father looked for me for three months before finding out where I was. Now he is counting the hours for my return home. This is what hurts me most."

Galal says that he was tortured both in prison and in the State Security Intelligence (SSI) headquarters. The young accountant has been redeemed by seven State Security Supreme Court decisions in favour of his release, but each one of them was ignored with the over-reaching authority of emergency law by Egyptian security forces.

"Every time I go to the SSI headquarters and wait for a few days, or even a few weeks and instead of being released they issue a new administrative detention order and send me back to prison."

SSI headquarters was a nightmare for Galal. "The cells were very filthy and they tortured me using electricity and told me they will only release me if I agree to work for them."

Like many political prisoners Galal was asked to report on his fellow prisoners and when he refused he was badly beaten. "It was the same story every time and after the second or third time I learned not to be happy with release judgments."

Galal was moved to El Akrab (the scorpion), a high security prison a few months before the revolution. After the 25 January he started hoping again. "We were promised that we will be released after a few days, and although some were released others were not told when they will be able to go home."

More than 70 political prisoners, according to Galal, are supposed to walk, considering they are detained without charges or have already served more than half of their sentence. "We started a food strike to ask for our release before Sheikh Mohamed Azawahry was re-arrested and put in solitary confinement."

The re-arrest of Azawahry, the brother of Al-Qaeda’s number two in-command, signalled to the prisoners that they might not be released at all. "The Minister of Interior said that all political prisoners were released - which is not true!" Galal asserts, "There are still tens of us in Akrab and in other prisons all over the country. We’ve been waiting for our release since the revolution began." His voice dropped as he feels his hopes dying. 

Galal says that the living conditions of the political prisoners in El Akrab are good compared to other prisons and that it improved in the past weeks as the treatment of the prison guards and officers improved. With less pressure and more time Galal tries to plan for his future.

"I will not leave the country again," he says, "but I will not get involved in any political activity." He sees himself as a dedicated worshiper and wants to start a new life with his father, brother and sisters, get married and have a family of his own. "I know the country has changed," says Galal, "but I am not sure that the regime has fallen yet."

Following the news on a daily basis through TV and radio, the young political prisoner thinks that it takes more than changing a constitution or arresting the ex Minister of Interior Habib El Adly to prove that the regime has fallen.

"I consider myself to be a victim of the corrupt regime, and as long as I am still in prison this means that the regime is still there."

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