Detained photojournalist Ahmed Gamal Ziada wrote a letter from inside Abu Za’abal, Prison, sent by his brother Mohamed to Daily News Egypt.
Ziada was arrested on 28 December 2013, and has been in prison since, pending trial.
His trial finally commenced last week before a division of the criminal court assigned to look into terrorism affairs. Along with 76 students from Al-Azhar University, Ziada is accused of violating the Protest Law, and setting fire to the university’s Faculty of Commerce building.
In the letter published below, Ziada recalls the three instances in which he met with Colonel Ashraf Abdul Rahman, deputy chief of Nasr City’s second district police station, who testified in court that he did not witness the fire, the protests or any protesters.
“On Saturday 28 December, I took some photos of security forces arresting two students walking by in front of Al-Azhar University, more specifically near the pedestrian staircase. The arrested students were tied and thrown into the police truck.
“This was the occasion of the first conversation between the deputy chief of Nasr City police station, who later arrested me, and myself. ‘Are you photographing us?’ he asked me. ‘I think you ought to take photos of those sons of *** who are setting the university on fire!’
“Making my way out, I told him: ‘That is exactly what I was about to do right now.’ What followed were the most demeaning insults and unjustifiable beating. ‘Take out your memory card, take out your mobile phone, may God take out your soul!’ I was told. One of the other officers then put my brand new phone in his pocket.
“The memory card contained a video proving that police arrests were arbitrary, random and abusive. The camera was included as evidence without the memory card.
“In November 2014, the head of the prosecution in Abu Za’abal prison called me to try to talk me into – or threaten me – ending a hunger strike I had started in jail. The deputy chief of Nasr City police station who arrested me was in the office by coincidence. He asked me: ‘Do you know me?’ I answered: ‘Nothing will make me forget the person because of whom my life is ruined in prison.’
“He kept quiet, so I carried on: ‘28 December, 2013, there was a young man with a camera trying to photograph the university clashes. You stopped him and asked him why he was taking pictures of the police and not the *** students. Then you beat him. The conscripts under your command took the trouble off your hands and did the beating themselves…’ He was silent but had a cold smile on his face.
“‘I am that young man,’ I told him, as he acted surprised. ‘Are you still in jail since then? I was just checking you, I did not know you would be held for too long,’ he said. ‘Yes, it has been a year since you ‘checked’ me,’ I said. ‘Well, that is to blame on the prosecution and judicial authorities,’ he replied.
“I told him I did not care who was to blame, but I did tell him that I did not and will not forgive him until the day comes that we all stand before God.
“On 4 March, 2014, the court heard the testimony of the corrupt police officers, and I had nobody to testify in my favour, neither my colleagues nor even the director of the network I work for. The judge questioned the same police officer who arrested me. He asked him if he saw any protests on that day, if he witnessed the fire and if he arrested anybody. The answers were: ‘No I did not see anything or any of the violent elements.’
“I thought that naturally he could not testify that he arrested me because that would contradict the statements he had given in court and would acquit me. I was shocked by his answers, and kept yelling from the glass cage, where nobody can hear you, no matter how much you scream. I asked to speak to him, and he sent me a reply: ‘After the session.’
“The session concluded and he disappeared, but I found him as we approached our prison cells again and I spoke o him. I asked him how come he testified that he made no arrests. ‘I did not lie, maybe my memory failed me. Maybe you should have reminded me before the court session…’ he told me.
“‘Here I am, reminding you,’ I said. ‘All I want is for you to speak the truth about the details of my arrests.’ ‘I am sorry but I cannot change my testimony, and neither could you, anything you say will not benefit you or harm me,’ he said.
“And I returned to my dark prison cell, laid on the floor as usual, and thought of that officer going home, sleeping on his bed, waking up and drinking his coffee before starting his work, wondering who else he was going to misjudge…”