Saturday, August 8, 2015

Esraa El-Taweel writes about "The Graveyard of the Living Dead"

Freelance Photographer Esraa El-Taweel wrote a new letter from detention at Qanatar Women Prison describing it as “The Graveyard of the Living Dead”. If I am not mistaken, this is the second long detailed letter Esraa writes from behind bars. This time she goes in details about her time in detention. I copied the translated letter from her father, Mr. Mahfouz El-Taweel’s Facebook account.

On the 27th of July, 2015 I had a showing in front of the Supreme State Security Prosecution. I had a different prosecutor this time than the one handling my case. This time I considered the trip to the State security
prosecution as an outing/break that I am having away from prison. I hate prison and what I hate the most is that it is full of women, and whoever knows me well knows that most of my close friends are guys, can you imagine how tragic this is? smile emoticon. On my way out of the State security prosecution to ride the deportation vehicle (after I was ordered another 15-day remand in custody) I saw Nahla, Sarah, Aisha, Sara, Abdel-Hameed, Ali, my mama, Duaa, Alaa and Nouran.
For a second I was happy that I saw them, but then I started crying. Nahla told me "don't cry". I wished I can greet them well and give them a big hug. I am even denied the right to say a proper hi to my friends. However this Monday was a beautiful day just because I saw them. I used to think "Did my friends forget all about me? Two months have passed!".
Why the hell am I shown for prosecutors interrogations and my friends and family outside where there is a wall between us that cannot be crossed? Will I enter the deportation vehicle again and go back to prison? How insane is that? I wish that all such injustices are put to an end. Yet again, I am really glad I saw my friends. Even though, the officer in commission "Ahmed Shawky" didn't allow me to shake hands with them or even receive a sandwich since I was hungry.. nevertheless my friends' presence made me happy.

Today - the 28th of July, 2015 - marks the 58th day of my abduction and the 42nd day of my imprisonment in Al-Qanater Women's Prison. Although almost 2 months have passed since I was kidnapped, I still cannot absorb what is happening. Till this moment I wake up panicking and asking "Where am I?". I cry and say "I just want to go back home".
When I was locked up for interrogations at the state security premises I had the feeling I was already dead. I felt that time had stopped. For 15 days I was kept blindfolded; I felt I was inside a tomb and prayed to God that He revives me once again like He resurrects the dead from their graves.
Unluckily, I wasn't able to pray during those 15 days since I had the last day of my period on the day I was kidnapped. I couldn't have a bath (after which I can resume my prayers) up until the 17th day when my family knew that I was in Al-Qanater Prison and got me clothes at the building of the Supreme State Security Prosecution (SSSP).
One day, I will tell about everything that happened to me at the state security premises.
Yesterday, I had a showing at the SSSP and (for the 4th time) I was remanded in custody for another 15 days. I asked my lawyer to tell my sister (who was waiting outside) that I wanted to have a McDonald's meal, but the officer in commission refused. They are deporting me in a large deportation vehicle with two security vans (one driving in front of us and the other behind us). Grin emoticon I swear to God, they are wasting their time and our time, tiring themselves for no reason.
I hate prison(s). I used to think earlier that I feared nothing more than prisons. But I am not afraid of prisons anymore.

Now I understand what Mahinour meant when she said "We don't like prisons but we're not afraid of them."1
Today, they took me to the prison doctor "Mahmoud Ashour" to check on me for the leg injury I have; his diagnosis was that I suffer from permanent disability. I explained to him the whole story of my injury and that I was getting better with the help of continuous physiotherapy.2 

Yet, he insisted that his diagnosis was correct and he told me "Don't argue with me! Go back to your ward." Now I cannot walk on my own and I need someone to take me to the bathroom all the time. I am staying in a cell sized 5m x 3m, mostly full of cockroaches and insects where this is the only place we're allowed to keep our food, and hang our clothes! It's as if I am living in a kitchen inside a bathroom within a bed!!!
Days pass here as if they are a copy of each other, they are all similar. Sometimes I think "Why do I eat?" Why should I still survive, for what cause? I am starting to feel that life is dying within me, despite the fact that my biggest hope - when I was at the state security premises - that I can see my mother and my family once again. Every day there I would be told I am going home and that they know that me and Omar are innocent and good-natured and that we'll be set free right away.

Every day I find them liars and we were never sent home.
Prison is very vapid. Books are prohibited, radio is prohibited, even "Mickey" comic books are not allowed in. The person behind blocking my accessibility to any of those legally-approved items is Detective Chief Inspector "Mohammed Khallaf".

He even didn't allow me to take the photos my sister printed for me. The strip search (body inspection) we repeatedly go through - conducted by Kawthar and Om Yahia, Sayed, and Amer - is very humiliating and invasive.
The only time(s) I feel I am alive is when my family visits me, I am only allowed half-an hour per week to see my family. Last visit, I couldn't hold myself, I cried to mama and asked her not to leave me. I didn't mean to hurt her or break her heart but I couldn't help it and I was very upset. I really wish I can see my friends. I wish I can see "Woody" my cat, I know she's pregnant and she's due soon.
Two of my inmates here are Asmaa "Dimples" (born 1995) and Safaa' "Safy" (born 1996); they are both serving a 3-year sentence, they have spent 1 and half year inside prison. Another one is Asmaa' Mokhtar "Mokh" (born 1994) who is serving 2 years. And there is the beautiful Mrs. Rasha Mounir, whom I really love. She is young at heart and always playing with us, looking after us and doesn't leave any of us (the younger) sad or depressed. Maybe you have heard about her in the media, she's the one whom her young husband died while waiting in the registration line to visit her in prison, he was carrying their 2 little girls. They prohibited her from attending his funeral or even seeing him after his sudden death a few miles away from her, even her mother-in-law is banning her daughters from visiting her.

How on earth can Egypt's judiciary give such a beautiful mother like Mrs. Rasha a 25-year sentence, with a load of ridiculous nonsensical charges?! Mrs. Rasha pampers us here and takes us up to her garden "the 3rd level of the bunk bed where she sleeps"; where we drink Nesquik (chocolate drink), and eat Chipsy (potato chips) and chocolates. Up there we sing:
" Oh Girls, oh girls, oh girls,
anyone who didn't give birth to girls;
haven't had enough freedom and have never been to detention centers.
I see beautiful days, because I gave birth to a girl,
who has been suspended from college and didn't sit for her exams.
Cry and scream oh girls, prison has no appointment,
when my girl's imprisonment news was spread, it reached bulletins.”3
We keep waiting for aliens to come over and save us .. but they never came.
Prison is a wicked thing, life is losing its meaning, more accurately there is no life here. We are like the living dead, everyone of us is allowed a one-hour visit and that's it.
Water here in prison is very unhygienic, it causes skin infections and smells like sewerage, so we are forced to use mineral water. Each one of us needs at least 6 large water bottles a day to drink and use for washing. They don't allow our families to bring us water from outside so we are forced to buy sealed water bottles from the prison canteen. A box of bottled water costs here 50 Egyptian Pounds; and we're only allowed one bottle per day each!!
Here they are segregating between political prisoners and criminal prisoners, and the political ones are discriminated against. For example; they forbid me from sending or receiving any letters during the visit and they spread informers among us while we are talking to our families to overhear everything; a 24/7 surveillance! I hate prison, I need to go back to my life.. that's it.

In this summer heat we go through daily power cuts that last for 3-4 hours a time. The whole prison has installed electric generators except for our cell, we don't have any. We almost die here from heat and there's no single draft of air especially when the fans don't work. Insects, cockroaches, ants and even worms spread quickly within our cell especially that we keep our food here inside since we have no refrigerator. Families of inmates here have bought us 3 refrigerators up till now, however the prison administration has suspended their installation for months although the paper procedures are completed.
In this filthy prison, we also suffer from the impolite behavior of the criminal prisoners.

Those women physically harass us, they do bad things and sometimes some of them appear suddenly in the bathroom and uncover themselves in front of us. And the prison administration as usual is turning a blind eye to all of this.
I demand my immediate release with the continuance of the prosecutors investigations; and if this is too much to ask or hard to implement; then they can at least put me under house arrest till the investigations - covering such false accusations - are done.
I will hand the mic over now to Asmaa and Safaa' to talk to you too:
' Safaa' Hassan .. Asmaa El Sayed .. Eng. Salwa Abdel-Moneim.. imprisoned since 8th of January 2014 .. we've been here for 566 days. "Is there a way to turn prison into heaven?" Whoever claims that he can is a complete liar. They have robbed us of our freedom.

We are living inside a grave. Eating is timed, drinking is timed, even entering the bathroom is timed. The only thing that makes us able to breathe again is the half-hour-long bi-weekly visit we spend with our families. The hardest thing ever is when we see the incapability and helplessness in the eyes of our dads and mums; they can do nothing to relieve this pain. We wish we can sit with our families without having someone saying "that's enough! time is out, back to your cells."
What on earth have we done to deserve this? Who gave them the right to deprive us from our parents' cuddle and nurture? We haven't committed any crimes; we didn't kill or steal.
Although those who kill and steal are treated better here, they are declared innocent and released. The officials here treat us as dissidents who deserve hell. We have seen pain and death with our own eyes and no one feels for us or knows how badly we are treated from both the administration and other prisoners. Words are infinite and the ache behind them is endless.. that's it for now.'

Esraa El-Taweel
Al Qanater Women's Prison

1. Mahninour El-Masry is the leftist human rights lawyer and political activist who is currently serving 2-year prison time for false accusations that contain storming a police station, attacking officers and torching the MB headquarters.
2. Esraa was shot with a bullet in her back on the 25th of January 2014, a fracture of the bullet hit and remained in her backbone causing temporary paralysis of which she is still suffering till this moment and can’t walk normally. Some progress was achieved since she spent a year and a half receiving physiotherapy and electric muscle stimulation; she even stopped using crutches before she was kidnapped. However, her case has deteriorated since she has been locked for 2 months now without any medical treatment, in addition to denying the entrance of the electric stimulation device she needs. Esraa is suffering now muscle atrophy in her thigh and much pain in both of her legs.

3. "Oh girls, oh girls" is a popular Arabic song by Lebanese popstar Nancy Ajram - celebrating the joy of her baby girl's birth. Esraa and the girls here are singing a parody version of the song where they adjusted the lyrics to fit their new miserable situation as girls behind bars. These are original lyrics of the song:
"Oh girls, oh girls, oh girls,
anyone who didn't give birth to girls;
haven't enjoyed enough tenderness and have never tasted sweets.
I see beautiful days, because I gave birth to a girl,
and neither has the earth trembled nor the wall leaned on me.
Clap and dance oh girls, happiness has no appointment,
when my girl's smile came to life; feasts have multiplied."

Seriously how can anyone be happy after reading this letter !!??

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